Bunker Complex

The lieutenant has red hair. “Carrot Top,” we secretly call him. Carrot Top says the Captain says build a bunker. What for? On patrol in Song Be we are grunts,not engineers. Armed with sandbags and machetes we obey the order.

Our Kit Karson’s,Jim Dumb and Papa san,make multiple quick cuts to the base of  bamboo stalks,cleaving it just right. While they continue to cut,we dig deep and fill the blue green plastic bags with soft moist dirt. We’ve never done this before. It doesn’t make sense. Still, anything beats jungle patrol.

Carrot Top oversees the construction.

“Lay this pole here. Lay that one there. More sand bags. More,”he says.

Soon we’re grimy with dust and sweat but the pitiful,tumbledown bunker is completed.

“Good work,”says the lieutenant.

We chow down on C-rations. Later,a cloverleaf patrol finds nothing. Settling in for the night,we stake the trips and claymores,read books,write letters,wait for guard.

In these moments of the jungles sweet organic scent,the twirling fall of bamboo leaves,the flickering pools of sunlight, it’s as if there is no war.

It’s the the time before LZ Compton is hit by rockets and mortars secretly called in by Papa san. Before the new man Johnny B is riddled by friendly fire. It’s the time before the time of replacements,and third platoon falls apart.

Dusk. We draw match sticks for guard.Two shifts per man. Two hours each.

In the morning we destroy the useless bunker. “Move out,”says the Carrot Top. As the column advances,all of us,short timers,old timers,lifers and FNGs,brace ourselves for the sight of foot prints on well used trails. Or the sudden pop-pop of AK47s. Or the lush booom of outgoing 155 Howitzer cannons. Or the aerial shriek of incoming enemy shells. Afterward,the sound of medevacs whisking the wounded away. If we’re lucky we’ll find the comforting shade trees or clear cool streams. Or spot the enemy before they spot us. Every three days choppers bring water and rations, ammo and mail. On those days we’ll shun the murderless twang of Stars and Stripes,instead speak our own lingo of “got you solid,or “don’t mean nothing,”or “gonna kick ass and take names,”or “roger that,”or “beau coup dinky dow,”or “chieu hoi, motherfucker.” Weeks later the choppers will fly us away.

After a time you learn the rhythm of this war: we walk into them,they walk into us, we walk into each other. And after the rockets or mortars or firefight the business of flies on the mouths of the dead. Or nothing happens except the tense wait for it to start all over again. This is our world until the day we leave this tumble down war that will never truly leave us.