Monday, October 29, 2007


The bomb dump at Da Nang was a lonely place, even on day shift. The post I drew the most sat looking back east toward the Airbase, across both runways, where the control tower sat almost directly in front of the post. The posts in the “dump” area were very far apart, and there was no one hooked up to a field phone in this area. All communications was by radio, or face-to-face with either the K-9 troop who came on at dusk, or with the three-man “Area Patrol” that came by to offer lukewarm coffee and companionship once every hour or two.

Once the night came and filled in and expanded the shadows the base lights were about all you could see. Sometimes during the monsoon, the little blue taxiway lights were all you could see in front of you. I remember staring at these lights thinking that if anything got between me and lights I would know it when the light went out. It was a blue fiber of hope that I staked my entire existence on for hours at a time.

I always felt uncomfortable standing inside the little wooden shelter, surrounded on three sides by sandbags stacked hip high, so I often lay in the tall grass about ten yards behind the guard shack. The low advantage silhouetted the shack against what little light there was in the sky and from the base. I would be able to see “them” before “they” saw me I assured myself.

One evening shift, just about an hour after full darkness, I began to relax and stare straight out toward the base. I often sang Righteous Brother songs out loud, without fear of being heard, to pass the time. Then I would take a break and light a cigarette, squatting down inside the shack surrounding to light up and prevent anyone from zeroing in on me. The old superstition of “three on a match” was placed in my head by old British movies I used to watch!

Pulling the comforting smoke deep inside my lungs, I leaned over on the shelf that crossed at the back of the shack and thought of home. I watched the little blue lights, and drew in another deep draw from cupped hands, and exhaled. At times the anxiety of being thousands of miles from home, in a strange land, and in a war zone, gave way to the solace of being alone with my thoughts.

Suddenly it dawned on me that one of the little blue lights had gone out. Strange I thought for about a second, and then it hit me that there must be something between me and the fence. “Got a light buddy!”

Son of bitch,” I shouted!

An unseen dog in the darkness lunged at me, growling, barking, pulling its leash taunt, and attempting to get at me over the top of the sandbags! The shock of his voice and the angry dog drove me backwards as I groped for my M-16, and I struggled to regain my balance. It then came to me that this was the local K-9 handler.

Again I greeted him with “You son of a bitch! Don’t ever walk up on me like that!”

“Oh, sorry man, I just needed a light for my cigarette.”

I nervously reached into my pocket for my lighter, but when I came up over the sandbags and held it out toward the Airman, the dog lunged again! Grrrrrr!”

Get the fuck out’ta here man!” I motioned aggressively with my M-16, almost pointing it at him. He did not say another word, just stomped off into the tall grass and back toward the fence line.

My heart pounded for minutes after he left and I could not relax the rest of the shift, expecting him to return, or the dog to grab me at any moment. I was no longer looking for VC. I was looking for that damn dog!

A few days later, I pulled Area Patrol duty, where I usually rode in the back of the Kaiser Jeep, ready to grab the mounted M-60. I always felt like I was on “The Rat Patrol,” a TV series back in the 60’s, and pictured myself firing the heavy weapon as the jeep rose and became airborne over a sand dune! However, the duty was not that glamorous…mostly helping SPs fill there cup with cold coffee from the stainless thermos that was strapped to the rear of the vehicle.

We also would ride around with several post’s C-Rations on the manifold in order to provide them with a hot meal! At first some exploded, before we learned to put a tiny hold in the cans using our P-38s.

[The photo at right is a self-portrait I made on this post. Note the light green coffee cup…it hung on this ammo pouch for the full year of my tour, never being washed, outside a quick swirl of coffee before filling the cup. The coffee was rarely warmer than air temperature and had a crunch from the sand that got into everything.]

It was during an Area Patrol shift just a few days after the dog incident that our little Jeep pierced the darkness of the bomb dump with its headlights. We rounded one of the high dirt berms and the lights fell upon the K-9 troop that had visited me days earlier. His dog just sat there, ears alert, red tongue out panting, looking at the bright lights excitedly, but not making any attempt to awaken his handler.

Finally, the dog decided he had better do something so he barked and scared the K-9 troop awake. He looked in our direction, made a move toward his weapon, that lay beside him in the grass, but then he relaxed, seeming to understand the situation.

Damn dog,” he shouted and jerked hard on the leash. What else could he do – he had been caught asleep on post!

I only felt sorry for the dog that took a hard slap across the top of the head. It was not the dog’s fault at all.

Luckily for the Airman, the staff sergeant with us decided it was not his place to discipline the K-9 troop that was not in his outfit. I guess he figured that if this Airman was that secure, or stupid, he would be caught sooner or later by his own superiors.


Les Becker said...

I can just taste the sandy coffee, too.

For a second there, I was sure you were about to tell us about a VC you had to shoot, when that K-9 troop came up with the dog. Whew!

BloggersDelight said...

This is our first time at your place. You have an incredible way of describing the scenario vividly. Thank you for sharing this tale and giving insight to another aspect of active duty that is rare. Please visit our place if you have the time. Thanks in advance.

Lin said...

Thank you for another wonderful service story! I can certainly relate to your gritty coffee and your annoyance with almost well-meaning dogs, too.

Hammer said...

Those are some great pics. The guy with the dog wasn't very bright it seems.

Buck Pennington said...

I still have my P-38 on my key ring. It's been there since about ...oh... 1964 or so. One of many. But, since I've never, ever, lost my keys I'm pretty sure the one on my key ring is an "original."

I gotta go light a candle and knock on some wood now. That statement about losing keys is a real fate-tempter, ain't it? ;-)

pat houseworth said...

The K-9 guys were always a different breed(pun intended) than the rest of us Sky Cops, or so it seemed...looking back however, they always seemed closer, as you can tell by today's VSPA crew...K-9s were a small portion of Air Force Security Police, but make up a large part of VSPA, plus they have their own VSPDH group as well.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Somewhere in Vietnam, there are two or three old geezers with blackened teeth sittin' around a bar, watchin' old movies on a new Japanese TV, tellin' war stories. One says to the other "remember when we used to sneek up on the wire at the base to test the defenses? The dog handler would be sound asleep and there'd be some dude singin' at the top of his lungs?" The other says "Yea. I always loved the Righteous Brothers. If it had't been for that dog we'd a fucked them up." The other smiles and says "Yep. Those were the days."

Mushy said...

FHB - That is hilarious, and probably true. Thanks!

That would probably make a good movie!

BRUNO said...

I started to read the line about "heating the C-rats on the manifold", and I started to wonder---"is he gonna mention how long it took him to figure it out, to punch a small hole in the top?"---and then, there it was, right in the next line! Damned things were more potent than most cherry bombs! Plus, those damned beans were HOT, and fast-movin'!!!

Yeah, I liked FHB's response, too! Wouldn't that be a bitch???

Mushy said...

My former boss is a fan, but isn't signed up to leave comments, but his email is hilarious:

I keep being surprised how your stories parallel mine.

One night I was pulling perimeter guard on firebase Dottie. We were in the bunkers made of culvert halves resting on ammo boxes and covered with sandbags. Toward the inside of the base was a full opening. Toward the perimeter, the ground came up to the beginning of the culvert leaving a small semi-circular opening through which to peer out and guard. We were just a few feet from the fence, and they mistakenly put bright lights next to the bunker shining on the fence. Even though it was chain link, the glare would prevent you from seeing any VC until they were climbing the fence.

I was pulling my shift at about 2 AM. I heard a noise approaching but couldn’t see what it was. I kept hearing the noise and was sure it was a Vietcong sapper infiltrating the base. I leaned forward and strained my eyes and ears to try to see where it was coming from and shoot it. My heart was pounding heavily. Just when I was about to explode, something touched my face and I jumped hitting my head on the top of the bunker. I then saw the stray dog that had walked up to the opening and kissed me in the face. Damn dog!


BRUNO said...

Yeah, some of our best---and worst---times have been created by "that damned dog"!!!

~Fathairybastard~ said...

This was a great one man. And get yer boss to sign up. He sounds like he's got some good shit to tell.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Occurs to me now, I should have ended that with somethin' like "Fuckin' dogs. I hated those dogs!". The other guys says Dude, you're eatin' dog." First guy says "Yea, I know. Too stringy."

... or somethin' like that.

Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

Ah, you were such a slim and vulnerable little slip of a lad back then, weren't you? It's painful to think of how young you guys were there.

I wonder if that guy who was obviously three sandwiches short of a picnic, actually survived his tour unscathed?

You have a way of writing that simply captivates us, Mushy.

Mushy said...

Thank you all for enjoying, or at least saying you do!