Vietnamese Joy Ride Page 2
At Sea — February 2000
By Capt. Bill Pike
Vietnamese Joy Ride
2: Bad Karma
"A graveyard?" inquired Suggs accusingly. Laying in wait for enemy soldiers in a cemetery, especially a Buddhist one, had no appeal for him. Bad karma.
"Yeah, a graveyard," replied Kirstedder, a man for whom orders were orders.
Buddhist cemeteries in Vietnam are unlike most cemeteries in America: the graves are circular and scooped out, like eight-foot rice bowls in the ground, with mounds in the middle. When we finally got to where we needed to be, we set out our portable Claymore mines across a likely trail or path, ensconced ourselves in one of the graves directly behind the mines, and came up with a typical roster of watches. Each man would keep a two-hour vigil, with the Claymore detonators at the ready, while the others tried to sleep. I drew the first watch, as luck would have it, and my time passed uneventfully. Suggs took over from me, and I nodded off about 10 o'clock to the sound of him calling in a situation report on our radio.
"Everythin' cool, man," he whispered into the handset.
The next thing I remember, somebody was shaking my arm. "Wake up, Doc...gooks," whispered Kirstedder hoarsely, using a stupid racist term I didn't care for then--and I include it now only for the sake of historical accuracy.
Other hoarse whispers filled me in. Something out there in the night was throwing stones into our grave, apparently with explorational intent. Suggs and Davis were of the opinion that the source of the stones, which were coming in every 15 minutes or so with a mysterious "tunk," was a monkey or "rock ape" with a twisted sense of humor. Kirstedder was convinced that the stones were being thrown by an enemy point man trying to draw fire. One muzzle flash would be enough to give away our position, a potentially fatal mistake when dealing with an opposing force of undetermined strength--a force that might conceivably be intent upon ambushing the ambushers.
My state of mind soon became a paradoxical one. On the one hand, I was terrified, way beyond any terror I'd ever known. On the other, I was absolutely, self-forgetfully focused, almost ecstatically obsessed.
Tunk. Tunk. Tunk. It went on for maybe an hour or so. Then finally, anticlimactically, the stones stopped coming. Eventually all we could hear were the whirrs of insects and the sounds of our own shallow, highly controlled exhalations. With dawn came enough light to conduct an examination of the surrounding ground, an exercise that produced no tracks or traces of enemy soldiers. Although there was no way to determine the source of the stones that had heckled us during the night, the most plausible explanation seemed to be the monkey/rock ape scenario proposed by Suggs and Davis.
The boat ride back to Qua Viet that morning was--and remains to this day--about the best boat ride of my life. It was a veritable joy ride, a scene from a heroic movie with me as the star. I felt like I'd proven myself to those around me, under conditions pretty darn close to combat. The abject horrors of the real firefights and battles would all but wipe out our whole company over the next few months and show me how grossly naive I'd been. But this day I reveled in my illusion on the gorgeous Qua Viet River and the beauty of the long sinuous wake we were leaving upon its lime-green surface.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.