Burning the Trash

Tuesday, July 2, 1968

A corner of the Kilo battery compound was designated as the dump.  It was surrounded by triple-strand concertina wire, and a water canal on the outer perimeter acted as an additional barrier.  It was protected from looting as we didn’t want the locals going through the trash.

Every morning our discarded cardboard, cans, ammo boxes, etc. were piled in this “burn area” and doused with diesel fuel.  Any excess powder bags were cut open, and the pellets were spread over the debris to provide for a quick burn.  The battery Gunny was in charge of igniting the “fireworks,” and it was customary to yell “Fire in the Hole” before throwing in the torch.

On this morning the burn detail was proceeding normally, and we all heard the pre-burn warning.  The powder flashed, and the rubbish turned into the usual blazing inferno . . . then we heard screaming.  A young boy had snuck into the dump, scavenging.  He was hidden from view and couldn’t escape through the wire.  His back side, from head to toe, was severely burned.

We managed to extract him and took him to the medical tent.  He was face down on a cot, and Doc Furman went to work.  His first words were, “Call for a Medevac!”  I could hear Captain Cavagnol making the call.  The Gunny was devastated and inconsolable because he felt responsible.  Doc started an IV and covered the boy’s burns with a gel and saline wet gauze.

As the helicopter was approaching, Cavagnol ordered the Gunny, “Get your gear and accompany the boy to the Hospital.”  This put the Gunny in the position of filling out the accident report in Da Nang.

At lunch, in an effort to distribute the Gunny’s duties, Cavagnol ordered Sergeant Cusack from Gun 4 to take charge of assigning the daily work details.  He then announced, “Sergeant Kysor will distribute the C-rats.”

I opened three ration cases and placed them in the Jeep trailer with the labels facing down.  After arranging the boxes I said, “Line up and pick your poison.”  My method of issuing the C-rats gave everyone an equal chance of getting what they wanted, but the outcome was the same . . . there weren’t that many good choices.

Later in the afternoon the boy’s mother showed up, and Cavagnol explained to her the details of the accident . . . she slapped him hard in the face as we all stood frozen.  He held her arm and embraced her, promising that her boy would get the best care.  It was a wrenching scene, as the woman wailed for her young son.

Captain Cavagnol held another campfire after sunset and we reviewed all the nightly security details since the Gunny was gone.  My late watch was extended until 0500.

Cavagnol called the incident what it was, “an accident.”  We wouldn’t see the Gunny again because he was due to rotate to CONUS the following week.  There was no love lost for the Gunny . . . everyone thought he was an “Ass,” but it was a sorry manner in which to part ways.

Normally this is where I would insert the Command Chronology.  For whatever reason, there is no official record of this accident in the monthly journal.

Next Edition:  WP Airbursts

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