Marines had all sorts of superstitions. Some would wear a dirty stinking towel around their neck while on patrol to wipe off the sweat, but washing it would be blasphemy. The towel was like a sacred lucky charm. The Grunts never filled their magazines with the full 20-round max. It was believed the extra stress on the spring would cause a malfunction (we tested this theory at the El Toro Rifle Range and never had a misfire).
The list of these notions of unfounded fear was endless and unique to each individual. My superstition was the new moon. I associated it with the Lunar New Year (TET). Tonight was my last “moonless” night in Vietnam, and this groundless anxiety would keep my conditioned brain on high alert.
We had learned to deal with sleep deprivation. It was an acquired survival technique. In most cases it resulted in needless fear. I learned to worry about things that would most likely never happen. It was during a short fitful sleep that I dreamed of Jenny burning with a high fever from the flu. She woke up drenched in sweat as the fever broke. It was so real . . . I was sure it had happened.
With my rice pillow and poncho liner, I moved into the bunker next to our hooch and smoked a cigarette. Reb had to wake me because I had overslept. Breakfast was almost ready when I came into the mess hall. Fernando announced, “I remembered the words to the El Paso song, in a dream.”