May 1969-Taking care of a buddy
A red alert siren wailed, the first of this particular night, shattering our sleep.
It always started at about 2 AM, back in May 1969, and it was repeated three or four times, night after night, usually when you just got back to sleep after the last “all clear.”
The launching of lethal 122 mm Russian-made Katyusha rockets were generally first observed by the Danang Airbase radar system as they lifted off from Vietcong-contested territory south of Danang.
“Rockets in the air!! Rockets in the air!!” radio warnings were broadcast to all units surrounding the sprawling air base putting everyone on alert.
As a result, all lights in all buildings went black.
Awakened by hoarse shouts of “incoming,” tired GIs, including myself, stumbled in the dark and ran for the safety of sandbag covered bunkers, wanting to be inside when the rockets ultimately struck, as they always did, somewhere.
He was tall and skinny, an awkward-looking boy from Georgia, only recently arrived in-country. His bunk assignment in the barracks was above my lower bunk. Earlier that week, I had told him what to do during a rocket attack. (Some “Vietnam-era” movies and books suggest that new guys were expendable simply because they were new, but that wasn’t true in our outfit. We all wanted all of us to get back home alive).
Now, with precious few seconds of safety left, half asleep from fatigue, as we both had dismounted from our respective “racks.” I grabbed the new guy by his hand to lead him out the door to safety and finally pulled him in behind me into the bunker.
With my mind fogged by exhaustion, I then inexplicably decided to leave the safety of the bunker and return to my bunk to grab my shower shoes. I didn’t need them, certainly not at the risk of my life, but one does odd things in times of extreme stress. In the total darkness, and with enemy rockets flying through the air, I fumbled around my bunk, found my shower shoes and headed back to the bunker.
Returning to the safety of the bunker, my shower shoes in my left hand, I was now fully awake and suddenly aware of the foolishness and unnecessary stupidity of my actions.
Only then, at that moment, did I realize that the new guy had never once let go of my hand.
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