Tet '69

by Richard Shand

Duster Compound, February, 1969

The characters in this account are fictional but everything else happened more or less as described (given the limitations of memory over time).

That evening Chris and the three other new men sat on a sandbagged bunker near the center of the compound. Chris felt closed in and unwieldy. His vision was partially obscured by the rim of the helmet and the flack jacket was heavy and restricted his movement. It reminded him when he was a kid bundled in a snowsuit.
Only this time, in spite of the relative cool of the darkness, he felt confined and hot. Sweat tricked down his brow and down his back. The men's job was to monitor a PRC-25 radio and await instructions in case they were needed in the event of an enemy attack. In the far distance flares lit up the night sky and a thin line of red tracers spewed into the air.
Epstein reached for the radio and twirled the knobs. A frantic voice, thin and wavering, issued through the speaker. "Blue fox, do you read me? We got movement in the wire. Give us more illumination. Over..." The percussive staccato of small arms fire and explosions punctuated the background.
"Hey, keep it down!" de Rizzo growled. Epstein quickly turned down the volume. The radio crackled again. "Blue fox, blue fox! We're taking RGP's... Grid coordinate YD eight seven one oh six niner. Over..."
A static hiss followed. The radio was only picking up the transmissions from the besieged infantry position. Chris edged closer to hear better.
"Blue fox, blue fox. We need a dust-off. Triple india whiskey alphas. One india kilo..." Yells could be heard in the background along with snap of rifle fire and muffled WUMPH of grenades.
"They're coming through the wire. Where's that arty? Over..."

Chris looked across towards the horizon. More flares dropped like sparks sputtering in the darkness. Tracers careened wildly in all directions and a faint drumming sound could be heard, like someone tapping their finger nails on a metal surface. Suddenly from a loud BLALALAMM rang out! Chris jumped and turned his head. The battery of 105 howitzers on the other side of the compound had just opened up. Castings clattered as they were ejected and a haze of blue smoke drifted up from behind the mess hall. As Chris looked back, the horizon flickered like a fluorescent light turning on and off as the 105 rounds hit.
"Blue fox, you're long. Drop fifty! I repeat drop fifty..." The voice on the radio was yelling now and there were sounds of screams amidst the gunfire and explosions.
"Poor sons of bitches, they're gettin' it good," Epstein interjected.
"I'm glad I'm not there," observed Daniels. There was a murmur of assent.
"Blue fox, blue fox! Where are the red birds? We need them now! They're all over the place... Jesus Christ!"
There was a moment of silence broken only by the static hiss. The men looked at each other, theirs eyes wide and gleaming in the half-light. The 105's opened up again from behind. BLALALAMM! After a delay of several seconds the horizon was lit up briefly once again. A new voice came over the radio, breathless and strained. "Adjust your fire this position. Repeat, adjust your fire this position..."

A voice boomed out of the darkness. "Hey! What are you guys doin'?"
Sergeant McDermott walked up to the bunker. He reminded Chris of Hoss Cartwright from the TV series Bonanza, big, amiable, a bit of a lunkhead. "You're supposed to be tuned in to TOC."
"Yeah, but Sarge, listen..." Epstein urged. Sergeant McDermott reached over to the radio and changed it back to the original frequency.
"I know it's all very interesting but we gotta listen for orders. This place could get hit next. Then what are ya gonna do?" With his eyebrows raised for emphasis, Sergeant McDermott looked meaningfully at each of the men. Then he slapped his hand on top of the bunker, turned and left the position. Chris and the others sat in silence and watched as the fireworks in the distance gradually diminished in intensity.