Don't Forget to Duck!
by David N. Muxo
Although we spent most
of our time in the field, "humping the boonies" we called it, "search and destroy"
the brass called it, there were times we would be pulled back onto a forward fire
base. Not much more than a clear spot in the jungle, with tents and artillery and
infantry around the outside as security, fire bases were a dangerous place. We
never liked being there because the enemy gunners had them zeroed in, and because
our job was guard duty.
We were grunts. We didn't mind that name. There was a certain honor in being out
front all the time. We lived with fear and sweat, we bonded in our adversity.
Black or white, asian or hispanic, we trusted each other with our lives. We were
dirty and smelly, and didn't follow the rules any more than we had to. Our job
was to survive. That didn't endear us to the commanders, or to the base camp
commandoes. It's not that they weren't good guys, I guess. But they weren't like
us, and they didn't understand when we stole a ham here or there.
The guys on the fire bases were more like us. Although not so smelly. They usually
had three hot squares a day and visits by Donut Dollies from time to time. But they
were closer to the field, and were in constant danger from mortar and recoilless
rifle attack, not to mention the occasional all-out attack by the pesky NVA and
VC. In short, they were all right.
Anyway, one afternoon Joe Heiser and I were in a bunker together on a fire base,
I can't remember which. For some reason we were actually inside, maybe because
it was raining, or had just rained. Suddenly there was an explosion behind us,
somewhere inside the compound. Incoming! We had heard that there had been mortar
attacks recently, and we thought that was it.
We got busy doing our thing, ducking. Then we saw out front something we had
never expected. The flash of a muzzle, then we heard the report, then the shell
go over our heads and explode behind us, the hospital tent. It was our first
encounter with an enemy recoilless rifle. Then another flash, another report, and
Well that went on for a while. We didn't really have time to be scared. But we
did pick up the rhythm of the thing. We would see the flash, duck, hear the report
and the shell go over, then come up for the next one. Flash, duck, boom, up. Flash,
duck, boom, up. It was almost like a dance, and we were doing a pretty good job
of keeping time to the music.
As I said, it had been raining, and the ground in front of our bunker was pure
mud. For some reason Heiser and I had glasses on. Heiser wore glasses anyway, but
I didn't, so I must have had sunglasses on. Anyway, somehow we got out of sync.
You know, two left feet. We came up when we should have ducked, and the shell
exploded right in front of us, couldn't have been more than five yards. Lucky for
us the mud took the impact, and splattered onto us big time. We were covered in
mud, from our chests up. Heiser took off his glasses, and I saw this black face
and two white circles where his eyes were. It was the funniest thing I had seen
since I had been in country! Then I took off my glasses, and Heiser dissolved into
About that time someone got on top of our bunker with an M-60 machine gun and
started firing toward the recoilless rifle position. We thought it was a silly thing
to do because the enemy gun was at least 3000 yards out, and the effective range of
the M-60 was about 1100 yards. Actually it worked, because the enemy stopped firing
and took off. The next day we went out and found the enemy position. There were machine
gun bullets lying on the ground. They had just barely made it that far, and probably
hadn't hurt anyone, but it was enough.