The early morning watch was very quiet. There was no moon, and the air was thick with humidity. Mosquitoes hovered constantly, and everyone had a bottle of military issue “bug juice.” It was nasty stuff, but we used it because there were no other options. The label read: WARNING: Keep Out of Reach of Children. There was no caution about getting it in your eyes, but we learned quickly.
When I was relieved at 0400, I laid down, covered my head with a damp towel and tried to sleep. Thunk, Thunk . . . It was outgoing mortars from the 26th Marines at the far end of the runway. I sat up to watch as the rounds exploded to the north, about a half mile away. The mortars kept firing, and I could see tracers being fired (bluish green from the NVA and orange from the Marines).
Putting myself back on alert, I was thinking of a coordinated attack. There were commands coming from the Exec Pit: “Azimuth zero zero niner, Direct Fire, Stand by . . . FIRE.” One of our guns fired, and the round exploded in a timed air burst above the blue tracers. The fight ended as the predawn glow lit up the landscape. I imagined Reb’s radio on Hill 65, “Goood Moorning Vietnaam!” Another day in paradise.
The heat surged, and we baked in the sun on the runway. There was some sort of excitement by the river, and I made my way to the beach. Corporal Shoemaker was in the water below the diving embankment. Trinh had warned him that something was in the water. Punji stakes were submerged in the mud bottom, and he was pulling them out. After the danger was removed, he yelled, “Clear.” Cavagnol announced, “No more diving.” There was disappointment, but everyone knew he was right.
Shoemaker (completely naked) walked out of the water and approached Trinh. He said, “cam on” (thanks). He seemed unaware of this immodest scene. Trinh bowed and ran off behind the barrier of bamboo.