Body Bags

hHill 65 mess hall
View of Kilo Battery Mess Hall from my hooch.

January 16, 1968

My internal alarm clock woke me up, and the luminous watch dial read 0355.  I took off my helmet and flak jacket, thinking about the mortar attack.  Boots were on my feet (unlaced), but I couldn’t remember putting them on.  As I tied the laces I decided never to go to bed with my boots off again . . . when under attack, seconds count.

Walking to the mess hall, I noticed the sky was clear with a few wispy clouds glowing brightly from a full moon.  The light sparkled on the rice paddies and lit up the river flowing toward Dai Loc.

Britt was mixing pancake batter while Stewart opened cans of sausage links.  I was making coffee as we discussed the mortar attack.  They could tell by the sound that the mortars were 82mm.  Smaller 60mm mortars weren’t as loud and did less damage.

We opened for breakfast, and a steady line of Marines moved through the chow line.  Hot cakes, sausage, eggs to order, juice and coffee was a standard breakfast.  Everyone ate quickly and moved out; there was no lingering in the small dining area.

Outside there was a commotion toward the Grunt compound, and I saw Marines loading two body bags on a MULE (small motorized platform).  As the MULE drove away, other Marines were dismantling a large tent.  A Grunt in the chow line said, “It was the engineers . . . an 82 blew them away in their sleep.”  Stewart said, “It don’ make no sense – sleepin’ in a tent.”  I thought about what Stewart said; he’d been here over a year and never said much.  It was a profound survival lesson.

After breakfast I walked over to where the tent had been.  There was a puddle from the rain, and I did a double-take.  It was the wrong color, a mix of rainwater and blood (a lot of blood).

The morning breeze puffed in my face, and I detected a metallic smell.  It was like iron or copper, and every hair on my body stood up.  I felt flushed and retched; another whiff from the puddle, and I was on my knees puking.  I headed back to the mess hall, drenched with sweat and rinsed off at the water buffalo.

Leggs showed up as I was recovering and listened as I described the scene I had just witnessed.  He went to the bulldozer and started it up.  The dozer rumbled toward the blood puddle, and the blade lowered, burying the blood as the dirt pushed over it.  He continued leveling the area as if it was being readied for construction.  He cleared a 100 foot square area adjacent to the mess hall and parked the dozer.  As Leggs got out, he pulled a wooden ammo box from the cab and set it down in front of me.

The box was full of basic carpenter tools:  a hammer, saw, pliers, cutting sheers, heavy-duty gloves, a staple gun and various wrenches.  He said, “Put this in your hooch.”  I answered, “They belong to the engineers.”  Leggs replied, “It’s a gift, and they won’t be needing them anymore.”

Next Edition:  Mama-San



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