“Standing Waist Deep” Tanka 2263

(February 10, 2019)

standing waist deep near death

a squad of newbies don’t see

why must they get wet

smell betlenut spit nearby

right on paddy dike’s edge*

*(Right after Typhoon Kate in late 1970, the Combined Unit Pacification Program reinforced squad of U. S. Marines from the First Marine Regiment, atop a hill overlooking Elephant Valley, right beside another long-feared Antenna Valley, I am the senior man in a short squad – eight or so – walking a combat patrol. Mostly new guys – FNGs or Newbies in the decidedly uncomplimentary vernacular. All wear new combat boots and their web gear (the rest of their 782 war gear, too) all looks new. But that is not the telltale. Could be reissue. The point team leads out atop the rice paddy dike, avoiding the deep and still waters of a feeder canal to replenish or drain the life-giving rice fields the Marines are sworn to help protect and defend from Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army regulars higher up in the mountains overlooking the rain-flooded and wind-damaged valleys below. I raise a fist and the rest of the squad behind me halts and the leading edge last-guy up on the paddy dike halts, too when he hears no movement behind him. Eventually, the point man looks back at me, questioning. I motion him over: I had seen the lieutenant in charge of the CUPP platoon who had been arguing with his two Navy hospital corpsmen assigned to his command as medical personnel about which of the two would be evacuated with high fever later that day when a resupply/reinforcement helicopter might make its appearance. I figured the Butter Bar (second Lieutenant) told his troops I was an old hand he knew and despite being a writer/photographer, he wanted them all to know that I was a corporal – never wore rank in the bush – and what I said went despite not being one of theirs. My boots were rubbed raw white, my cammy (camouflage) utility blouse was rimed with sweat. I had two bandoliers of M-16 magazines crossed-my-bra (hah!) with a quick-release trick from an overlarge safety pin which made it easier to shuck off my shoulders in a hurry. And another bandolier of mags ’round my waist under the flak jacket. My Randall bowie knife rode its special perch handle-down and point up, my Ka-Bar combat knife was on a low-slung loose belt. Didn’t carry a bayonet. None available and why bother. I got the rounds and never did fire on full automatic yet. A magazine in my flak jacket front pocket and both side pockets of my jacket bulged with fragmentation and smoke grenades. I had one canteen slung on eyehooks on the flak jacket, just beside the emergency bandage/first aid set-up kits. In short I had what they did not. Perks of being a combat correspondent with access to steal from damn near anyone’s armory and supply setup. I carry beer and U.S. Army dehydrated LRRPS (longrations) in my pack and another 400 rounds of rifle ammo in two bandoliers at the very bottom of my pack, ready to be ripped out with a knife-fade slash at a moment’s notice. The nominal squad leader, a Lance Corporal set up on a knee on the paddy dike – I had already waded into the canal and four of his men were in the ditch with me. “Didn’t anyone tell you, especially after a few days of not being near, like during or just after a typhoon, it’s not good practice to walk the dry places when on a first patrol?” The Lance Coolie looked deep into my face, his rapid eyes scanning and reading. “Thanks. We’ll get down and do Tail-End Charlie. I’ll come up and walk your point, Okay?” Fine, I said and we all got wet and miserable and weary together. Not a single sighting. My kind of patrol. Both “Sea Tiger” (The USMC in-country weekly newsrag) and Stars & Stripes Pacific printed photos of one of those men – eyes and being intent on his assigned “arc” on this walk in the water. “I entitled the photo in my caption: “Sometimes The Hunted.” I stayed away from that squad and that platoon the rest of my two months remaining “in the bush” before I was scheduled for a 30-day tour-extension vacation to South Africa come February. That plan changed abruptly January 9-10 and I got a free trip on a C-141 AirForce Star-Lifter to Japan and then to America. Different batch of people I did not know and for the first time ever in Vietnam in the bush I shitcanned my personal discipline and slept a a rainy high-monsoon night in a bunker instead of wrapped half-mummy style in a poncho-and-liner affair out in the open. Who’s the dumbass now?)

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