When our connecting flight from Bangkok finally arrived at ‘Tan’* we quietly made tracks. We managed to successfully return to our own area, while barely avoiding a work detail or two which Trank happened to note were forming up shortly after we arrived. Even at our own compound he was working point.
It was unlikely we would have been doing any of the work if we had gotten drafted, but the time spent supervising it was no cake walk either. We made our way on a round-a-bout path to return to our billet managing to avoid yet two more such details. Figures, it was that time of the morning. At least the mornings were cooler than the afternoons. After we dropped our gear, I had my two guys who were banged up checked out by our own medical group.
Worse case for my banged up buds turned out to be a week of relaxation and observation with maybe another two or three weeks of light duty while his leg healed. Not too bad. I managed to pilfer a medical ticket for him so he was exempt from the work details for the next four weeks. After reporting, I was called on the carpet for not taking a direct flight from Udorn to Saigon but the round-a-bout not only seemed a little safer to me right after tempting fate so many times to get that spook back in one piece but it was leaving Udorn within minutes of our need. Further, Bangkok was a good place to get him medical attention if he turned out to really need more than it seemed. I said so and our CO decided he agreed with me.
Since we were unlikely to be going on another bad one for a week or two that meant Benny would be back out in time to enjoy the fun right along with the rest of us. The next couple of tasks I and my team would likely have to tend to should be a bit easier so I drew on a couple of my alternate heros when we went through planning for those. Planning, yeah. All of two hours in a lecture and then out the gates. Might be nice sometime to have something which passed for real Intel before we went on one of our little excursions? By now, most of us had become pretty good at spotting the Intel guys. They were the ones who were really good at writing fiction. Now don’t get me wrong, some of them were quite good at what they did and came up with some excellent conjectures. Unfortunately, command didn’t see fit to share those thoughts so produced with us lowly peons.
Anyway, as I was saying, when the rest of us finally returned to our shared billet it didn’t take us more than a couple of tired hours to figure out that our barrack had lost two more good men. It was a little obvious when the paper pushers from headquarters company left empty footlockers and rolled up beds behind them for us to discover.
“Hey, any of you guy seen Perk lately?”
“No. Check with the guys next door. Some of them go out with him once in a while. He usually does house calls at a couple of the villages up their way when they go out.”
Well... Turns out he was one of the missing. Sgt. Perkins; he was a great medic and was pretty good at playing with the stuff that went boom as well. A strange combination, but he felt properly placed explosives destroyed enemy supplies which meant he was saving lives of our guys. Damn... That reminded me, he would have been twenty-one next week, we had a surprise party planned. Ralph told me he was going to see if he could learn how Perk bought it. If it was some stupid idiot who gave him up then we could pay the guy a social call during one of our next times out. Maybe bring the score back to even, just a bit.
The next day was quiet for us. There was a lot of debrief, clean up and resupply of our individual equipment, munitions and so on. I made up another couple dozen bottles of my yellow surprise from the large economy sized containers I had buried. The small bottles were hidden at the bottom of my pack along with a half dozen bars of judiciously ‘borrowed’ C-4. You know? It’s kind of funny how the amount of C-4 seems to diminish every time one of my patrols comes back and goes through resupply. I used to worry about the Supply Sergeant taking me to task over it until the time we didn’t ask for any and he got all upset that we hadn’t and tracked us down as we were headed back to our quarters.
“Look, Lyon. I don’t give a damn what your guys use the stuff for so long as it’s killing enemy or destroying their supplies. Now you hustle your guys back over to my shack and tell them they better pick up three to five bars apiece or my inventory’s going to be off. And my inventory better not be off, if you catch my drift.”
We caught it and hurried back so each of us could happily tuck away between four and six bars apiece.
Back to my pack. After my little bottles of yellow surprise and six bars of C-4, I piled eight days dry rations for three on top then enough ammo for the platoon for ten hair-raising seconds followed by a lot of extra shoestrings, chocolate bars and socks. I would have taken a kitchen sink as well but my pack could only hold so much.
The chocolate bars were for the village kids who usually could provide more accurate Intel than the adults. You’d be surprised how much stuff a kid can see and remember. It took me a little time to prepare the candy though. You’ve got to be careful, no American wrappers. Keep it all looking like it came from Nam otherwise the kids could wind up in some deep shit. I bought local candy for kids around here then saved the wrappers to hold the Hershey bars and other chocolates we bought in the PX. Our good-hearted friend in Supply even managed to sneak a couple of orders through for candy bars which he supplied to us in exchange for some hooch. We actually made out on that deal since the hooch cost us a lot less than the candy. One thing about the Hershey bars though, they melt easy. Especially over here. That took a lot of ingenuity to solve. It took us nearly four months to come up with something that worked for longer than two hours.
One day after we returned from a simple recon, Trank dropped by and whispered, “Hey Lyon, look what I’ve got.”
“Oh hell, Trank. Why’d you have to show me that?”
“It’s legit.” he looked abashed at my response, “I won it from one of the spooks at a poker game. He promised me a hundred rounds for it, too.”
“Trank, you’re going to get it if anyone sees that pistol. You know the Convention forbids that sort of thing.”
“Then why can the spooks use them?”
“They aren’t military. If you have to carry that don’t let me see it. Hell, I don’t even want to know you have it.”
“I can keep the silencer separate until I need it. It’s not illegal to carry the pistol.”
“I warned you when we were out on patrol. I don’t want to know.”
“I already checked it out and it’s good to twenty five yards.”
“It’s your ass, Trank. I never saw it. I don’t know anything about it. Don’t let the others see you with it.”
“I’m cool, Lyon.”
“Yeah. You’re so cool you’re petrified. You sure your mother didn’t drop you on your head when you were a baby? Keep that thing under wraps. No one sees it and no one sees you use it, if you do. Got it?”
“Yeah. No sweat, Lyon. I feel safer already.”
Shaking my head, I watched Trank take his pistol and silencer back out of the barrack as he hid the silencer away in his uniform. That guy was going to get more than a Fifteen out of that if anyone found out about it. Sure, a silenced pistol could be a valuable resource in the field but the potential trouble wasn’t worth the luxury. Trank was his own worst enemy and I was beginning to think he was a walking court-martial looking for a place to happen and people to drag down with him.
The next day we were out in the field again on another milk run. More simple observation shit. Just stay out of the way for a few days then let the Navy or the Air Force do their jobs. All we needed to do was call in the targets and let them know when Charlie was there in the first place. A walk in the park. Not like the rumors I heard on and off over the past eight months or so of guys dressed as women who supposedly had been going on single or double parties into the deep woods up close to China way. If that was true, then those guys were so deep into the shit without so much as a roll of toilet paper for protection that it gave me chills on a hot day. Thanks, but no thanks, I’ll take my chances in the tunnels.
We finished two of the wait in place recons over the past five days which was beginning to make me think the Army must believe easy missions were our R&R. At a guess that would mean they were about to throw something nasty our way again. We all hoped it would be something interesting.
When I received the call to leave my team after our last little ‘cake walk’ and report to company HQ, I figured the next fun assignment has reared its head at last. I showed up and reported, saluting our green lieutenant who was probably very happy he got to stay home all the time. Wait until next month buddy, the Captain said your turn on the rotation is coming up. The Lieutenant sent me to one of the small offices where I found one of Battalion’s Majors waiting. Happy horse shit.
I reported and he replied with an incredulous, “You’re Lyon?” Gee, I thought I just gave him my name when I reported to him.
“Yes Sir. I’m SFC Lyon. What can I do for you, Sir?”
“You the Lyon who just came back from Xuân Mai with a Chinese prisoner?”
“Somewhere around there, give or take a hundred klicks and up into the mountains a little. Yes, Sir.”
“Grab the team you used on that mission and report to me at Battalion HQ.”
“Sir. One of my team still has about a week to go in the hospital.”
“Okay. Then grab everyone who’s left and meet me over at Battalion HQ. You guys are going for a ride.”
“What do we need, Sir?”
“That’ll be explained at HQ. You’ll have a couple of hours afterward to get ready.”
“Yes, Sir. Five minutes. Uh, better make that ten minutes, Sir.”
The Major nodded his head and departed for his jeep which was parked in what passed for shade out front of our HQ while its attached driver was trying to look like he was staying awake. Meanwhile, I charged out to grab everyone I could find. I managed to locate Trank quickly and told him to hide the pistol and silencer in the deepest, darkest hole he could find then meet us at Battalion HQ. Next I located Ralph. He and I rushed around to find the rest of the team. Frenchy became enthusiastic when he learned we were likely to be getting into some kind of major situation again. Finally we had everyone but Trank rounded up then rushed over to Battalion HQ to learn what this was all about. I was about to send Ralph back to drag Trank here by his hair when the slacker finally sauntered up.
In we went, asking for the Major. The orderly pushed us off on a Captain instead but a few minutes later we were playing ‘salute a Colonel’. I don’t know what game they were planning on having us us play, but to my way of thinking, seeing a Colonel was never a good thing.
“Relax gentlemen. We’re still cutting your orders. In the meantime you will find your dress greens, pull them out, dust them and yourselves off and get ready for an airplane ride. You’ll be going in the company of the Air Force at least as far as California, more probably all the way to your final destination. When you arrive at CONUS, you will be moved rapidly through the Air Force’s red tape and you will all wind up at the DC command area courtesy of either Air Force or civilian air transport. On the way there or on the trip back as well as during the time you spend at your destination you will not embarrass me. Is that understood?”
Our Chorus of confused voices saying “Yes, Sir” echoed around the room for a moment before he continued.
“While there you will be temporarily under the command of a Colonel Jackson whom I have been led to believe will chew you up and swallow you alive if you even think about fucking up. You will answer any questions put to you to the best of your ability and when the Colonel is finished with you, you will report to the Air Force who will return you here post haste. Is that clear? No side trips. No unauthorized acquisitions brought back with you.”
I gave a quick scowl to Trank as the Colonel continued, “We will expect to see you again two weeks or less from today. Now go clean up, change and report back here looking like you know just how a real soldier should look and act. I know that might be difficult for some of you who have been over here for several tours but try and pretend. If we are suitably impressed you’ll receive your traveling orders.”
“Yes, Sir.” we chorused at him once again.
“Dismissed.” We all saluted and he returned them then we made tracks for the barracks. I didn’t even get on the guys about the protocol for saluting in the Colonel’s office.
“What was that all about, Lyon?”
“Hell if I know. Whatever it was, it probably wasn’t good. You’ve all got about an hour to shower, shave and make yourselves look like parade soldiers instead of veteran grunts. Report back to me and I’ll decide if you pass the muster before we place ourselves on the hot seat at Battalion. Any of you ever seen that Colonel around here before?”
When I didn’t get any answers, I shooed the guys off, “ Move it. You’re wasting daylight.”
Just over an hour later I was checking out the guys, giving ‘em hell over some obvious errors. After the guys were sent off to make their corrections I di di bopped over to the hospital to tell Benny he was gonna miss out on whatever this little adventure was going to turn out to be. He wasn’t too happy but he figured he could milk the hospital for much of the time we would be gone. I had to make tracks since, good or bad, the guys were all meeting at Battalion where we would go in together. I was thinking they had better be looking tall. I couldn’t believe Frenchy didn’t update his uniform stripes or change his Vietnam Service ribbon to reflect time in country. You got to lead some of them around by the hand.
I rushed back to discover Frenchy was the first one standing around like he’d been there all day waiting for the rest of us. The others who had been invited to this little party weren’t even in sight.
“Frenchy, I’m not even going to ask how you can get cleaned up, straighten out your uniform and change your stripes and ribbons in less than an hour.”
Hinting that I would like to know since it could be a valuable skill, “Hell, you even got a haircut since I checked you guys out.”
“Of course, mon ami. You don’t expect me to receive orders for a trip to the States while dressed less than ‘all I could be’ do you? After all, some things are worth the sacrifices we must make.”
You’ve gotta admire Frenchy’s way with words. That’s one of the things which caused us to tap him as one of the nuts we wanted on our original team when Ralph and I started our business. He could charm the scales off a snake and make it wish it had more of them to give.
The rest of the guys straggled in, with Ralph shepherding them along moments before we needed to report to that Captain again. As spokesperson, I reported for us and received our orders, distributing them to the guys. Fortunately we didn’t need to see the Colonel again as the Captain gave us the ‘best behavior’ speech once more before telling us to draw funds for our trip per our orders then sicced us on an unsuspecting CONUS. The guys and I immediately trekked back to the company HQ to have multiple copies of our orders made. Five immediately went into the command structure hopper never again to see the light of day which left us each with twenty five. Now we were off to Finance drawing funds for the trip after losing another two sets of orders each and signing our lives away once again. We each managed to depart with about $1200 apiece. That only took two hours, a couple dozen arguments and turned out to be a bit scary. None of us were looking forward to what might happen if anyone figured out a small fortune was walking around within the company perimeter. The guys were all for partying but I told them that we would be in or near DC somewhere and the rooms there would likely eat up every bit of our funds since we would be on the economy. That threw a very wet blanket over their party. Where the hell is Ft. Meade, Maryland anyway?
We headed back to the barracks to pick up what little gear we were taking with us and to make tracks to see if there was any room left on one of the planes making it’s trip back to the states. When we showed up to report to the Zoomie Major per our “orders” things moved into high gear. We were given seats on a plane that was leaving in less than three hours. I don’t even want to know who we bumped in order to get on the plane. The major gave us each an additional two page set of orders the purpose of which, he explained, was to move us through the Air Force system as fast as they could make space for us.
“Show these whenever you are questioned, along with your orders from the Army. There will not be a problem. Do not release these orders to anyone. They are noted as specific to each individual and are valid for fifteen days commencing today. Guard these with your life, men. They aren’t issued but once in a blue moon.”
We left his office with our additional orders in hand and while we were waiting I began to read them. Great, another General. “What the hell is this all about?”
Ralph is sitting so close that he heard me, “What’s that, Lyon?”
“You asked, ‘what the hell this is all about?’.”
“Just thinking out loud.”
“Okay Boss, spill. You don’t usually say something unless it’s important.”
By now Ralph and I had attracted the attention of the rest of the squad who were looking at me expectantly.
“I just read our Air Force expedite orders and they were initiated by another General.”
Everyone fumbled for their orders looking for the signature line before babbling in competition for best lunatic. True the major signed them but he did so at the behest of a General according to the info at the bottom of the sheets.
“What the f—s going on?”
“Why are all these Generals getting in on this?”
“Hey Sarge, I’m beginning to not like this.”
“Lyon, do you think they think we’ve done something we haven’t?”
Trank suddenly began to look very guilty and everybody noticed.
“Okay Trank spill it. What have you been up to?”
“Uh, Lyon you told me not to show it around.”
“You have that damn thing with you?”
“I couldn’t think of a good place to hide it.”
By now the guys were looking at Trank and myself wondering if we got them into some deep shit.
“Trank, when we get back here from whatever this is all about I’m going to bury you in shitty details for the rest of your tour, if not your life.”
Trank looked abashed and the rest of the guys were now clamoring for information. I couldn’t see a way out of this except to bring them in on the secret. But first, I tried reasoning.
“Guys, guys, LOOSEN UP. You don’t want to know. Trank has acquired a little toy for our missions, against my better wishes I might add,” Trank just looked more guilty, “and it isn’t anything which would affect the team so long as you don’t know about it. Now I’m ordering you not to try to learn about it because in this case what you don’t know won’t hurt you.”
That’s when I learned the guys already knew.
“Trank, is there anybody you didn’t tell?”
“Sure, Lyon. Lots of people, and no officers.”
“You do know that DC is a no firearms kind of place don’t you? And I think the Air Force has some kind of prohibition about non-flight crew carrying loaded weapons on their planes going to or arriving from CONUS.”
Trank got another guilty look.
“Trank, tell me it’s not loaded.”
“Aww, Lyon. What good is an unloaded pistol?”
“Don’t let anyone see you do it, and I MEAN anyone; but you will unload that piece and throw away the bullets. And I mean right NOW mister.”
“Okay Sarge. Okay.”
Trank got up then looked around before heading off to the latrine. Some of the guys wanted to follow him but I nixed that in no uncertain terms.
“No! Everyone stays right here. If Trank wants to work up to a stay in Leavenworth, I don’t want to lose anyone else to his stupidity.” Then under my breath, “How can anyone be so good at most things and so stupid at something like this?”
I didn’t know I said it loud enough to be heard.
“That’s Trank, Sarge. He can’t help himself.”
The rest of the guys jumped in to offer tidbits to his defense.
“AT EASE, Guys. I’m not going to do anything to him. Well, not much anyway. But his actions could place everyone who knows about his new little toy in jeopardy. Crap, I don’t need this.”
About then Trank was returning all smiles.
“Trank, tell me you didn’t try to flush the bullets and they are now gone.”
“Naw, they’re too heavy to flush. I tossed them...”
I held up my hand in front of him, “That’s all we need to know. More information just gets us all in deeper.”
I checked the time again and since it was getting close we gathered up the few little things we had going with us. Our big stuff like extra uniforms and so on had already been turned in for transport. We were just arriving at our check point when we saw Larry and Blade walking up.
They waved as they greeted us, “Hey guys. What’re you doing here?”
“Got orders, Blade. You heading out?”
“Got to go report to some big wigs somewhere near DC. I guess that officer was important to somebody since the orders came down from a two star.”
“No kidding? We just report to a Colonel.”
“Us too. But a two star initiated the orders.”
“Uh... The Colonel you report to wouldn’t happen to be named Jackson would he?”
Larry had been reading the orders while we were jawing, “Yeah. Colonel Jackson at Ft. Meade. What is this shit?”
I looked at Larry and Blade, “That officer we pulled out of a jam wouldn’t happen to be some kind of intelligence spook would he?”
“Maybe. He had a code name. What was it now?” Larry began scratching his head trying to remember something which didn’t seem all that important to him at the time.
“Houdini.” I offered.
“Yeah. That’s it. Houdini. Strange moniker to be carrying.”
“Hey Larry, it’s no stranger than Mad Hatter,” Blade replied looking me square in the eyes.
“Mad Hatter? Who’s Mad Hatter?”
Blade pointed at me.
“You’re kidding, right? I heard of you.”
“Nothing good I hope.”
“Nah, the usual shit. Why do you think they’re sending us to DC?”
“Couldn’t be for anything good.”
“Five’ll get you ten that it has something to do with that spook.” Larry continued. By now everyone decided our package was a spook although I still wasn’t entirely certain of that. He just didn’t seem all that spook-like to me. Maybe some kind of intelligence but not a field spook.
We continued to have a lively discussion rather than grabbing some winks eventually wandering back out to check in for our flight. The Zoomies grabbed another copy of each of our orders and had us sit down to wait again. Finally we were on our way to whatever it was that was waiting for us. Our Colonel’s comment about Colonel Jackson eating us alive if we fucked up was still floating through my mind as we flew home.
I gave a lot of thought to this trip and what it might really mean. It’s obviously not an award because that could be done in Nam and with just paperwork since we were needed in the field. I didn’t think it was any kind of punishment since our company seemed to feel we would be returning in ten days give or take a little. If it’s anything to do with that semi-spook then why are we all going? It seems like overkill to me. Blade and Larry plus myself and/or Ralph should have been plenty to answer questions about his capture and rescue. Then too, why the Air Force major and the cutting of special transport orders just to push us quickly through the red tape? I mean, I don’t mind because that means we don’t need to go through the replacement companies in California in order to get on a plane to return here. But why all this special treatment?
I continued to look at my orders noting they were initiated by a two star just like Larry said so we were all apparently going to the same place. I and all my boys were on one set of orders so I presumed Larry and Blade were both on their set. Funny way to run an Army. Oh well, who am I to argue? At least I’ve got a chance to grab a few winks. Be nice if it was a little warmer in the plane though. I guessed I should be happy they weren’t going to drop us out of a bomb bay with parachutes, that would be fun. Oh yeah.
* ‘Tan’ Tan Son Nhut Airbase and the nearby location of some of the US military presence near Saigon during the Vietnam conflict.
T D Aldoennetti
with contributing authors
Kate Hart & Denise Trask
All characters in this work have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relationship whatsoever to anyone or anything bearing the same name or names. The characters contained herein are not even distantly inspired by any specific individuals known or unknown to the author. All incidents described or alluded to within this work are pure invention. No affiliations, involvements or gender assignations due to the use of any images contained within this work are to be implied, intended or inferred.
Cover image copyright Maps.com and shown for clarification of area in which the story begins it’s evolution.
DUTY CALLS, L.J. Stevens Vol. One Copyright © 2012 USA, Earth by R. A. Dumas.
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