Vietnam.."Humor in Uniform"

Believe it or not, there is so much humor in the military that books could be written about individual events which have happened. Most of them have a real human interest side to them and most of them are really funny. This story, for example, was told by a USMC Lieutenant by the name of Harry Hooper when he was in Vietnam many years ago. See what you think?

“In mid-September of 1966 I was ordered to an observation post (OP) called the Crow’s Nest. It was on top of Marble Mountain south of the airstrip at Danang. It was the mission of the Crow’s Nest observation post to protect the airstrip, and to keep the Viet Cong from damaging the air-conditioned trailers of the aviators, and the nice barracks of their support troops, by firing rockets or mortars at them. The aircraft were a concern also. The mission was to be accomplished by raining artillery fire onto the heads of any VC who had the temerity to attack the big base and the Marine air base which was north and east of the mountain.

Marble Mountain was actually several spindly shafts of rock. The highest one rose 105 meters straight out of the sand just west of the South China Sea and it was upon this rock where the Crow’s Nest sat. The mountain was mostly made of marble but turned to limestone nearer the top. The entire mountain was full of caves and tunnels. Most of them were too small for a man to enter. I think if it had been possible to saw it in half it would look like a plank eaten by termites. At the summit was an area which was 20 feet at its widest and in length it was perhaps 150 feet. This was occupied by a wooden platform upon which was placed a 106 millimeter recoilless rifle. The plan was that anytime the wily Cong fired rockets at the airstrip, they would be engaged immediately by the 106 while the Forward Observer, me, would send a fire mission to my artillery battalion which would then blast the offending VC into rubble. Since the VC only fired rockets at night, and usually moonless nights, exactly how we were to accomplish this was never revealed to me.

Life on Crow’s Nest was not unpleasant. There were eight of us up there and the days were spent eating, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and listening to a tape player which had a single Beetles tape. The album was called “Revolver” and Eleanor Rigby was the featured song, or at least the only one I remember. We must have heard it a thousand times. After enough beer, I would actually begin to worry about Eleanor’s plight.

The 106 had a .50 caliber rifle on top of the weapon. This was called the minor caliber. The 106 itself was called the major caliber. The gunner, when he found the target with the minor caliber, would yell, “Fire the major caliber.” The explosion from the recoilless rifle was like the crack of doom and the difference between the minor caliber and the major caliber was like the difference between a hand grenade explosion and the atom bomb.

One of the problems with eight Marines on a small piece of real estate was that of field sanitation. This had been temporarily solved by placing a 106 ammo box, with an appropriate hole cut into it, over a shaft in the limestone which was at least 12 to 15 feet straight down. It seemed to angle off to the side after that and we suspected that it continued deep into the mountain. When relieving oneself of C-rations washed down with beer, the alimentary canal produced a product which resounded with a splat as it bottomed into the abyss of the pit. In time, the OP, especially at night, became redolent of sewage. As a highly trained second lieutenant, I resolved to solve this. Someone could have become ill as a result of this situation, or at least gag!

I contacted the supply people on the radio and requested gasoline so that the offending matter could be incinerated. The supply helicopter finally arrived with its cargo net containing four jerry cans of diesel fuel. It may have been a product of our boredom or the excitement of having something new to accomplish, but in any event, as soon as the cans were unloaded, we removed the ammo box and poured twenty gallons of diesel fuel into the pit. With great anticipation we threw a match into the pit. Nothing. Then we lit a package of matches and tossed it into the odoriferous hole. Nothing. Then we lit a large splinter from the ammo box and threw it in the hole. It made a nice little fire for a while but the diesel didn’t catch. Next came an illumination grenade. The pit remained as fireless as a tenderfoot with flint and steel. This is when we learned that diesel doesn’t burn; at least it didn’t on Crow’s Nest.

Our disappointment was obvious. We called the air officer on the radio requesting gasoline so we could do the job. We were informed that the pilots thought gasoline to be an unsafe cargo when put in a cargo net which had to be deposited on a narrow rock ledge. If the gasoline can collided with the rock, the whole helicopter would burst into flame, or so I was told. The situation was becoming one of those righteous welfare of the troop’s issues and with all the indignation that could be mustered by a second lieutenant; I suggested that this was a matter which should be kicked upstairs.

Next week the helicopter arrived and in the big net I spotted five gasoline cans. Into the abyss went 25 gallons of gasoline which mingled with the diesel which had pooled there from the previous week’s effort. It was late afternoon. The sea breeze wafted in from the South China Sea, rustling the hairs on our heads which were already tinged with excitement. I delivered a safety lecture of sorts on the explosive tendencies of gasoline and suggested that we ignite the gas with an illumination grenade tossed from a safe distance. A volunteer agreed to do the deed and pulled the pin from the grenade. We watched over his shoulder as he tossed the device into the pit with precision.

For a moment there was silence. Then the mountain began to shudder and then to vibrate and then a loud roar split the silence of the afternoon. Flame burst from the mouth of the pit like a mighty tongue, and to our amazement, additional blasts roared from the sides of the mountain like fumaroles on the cone of an erupting volcano. It was Vesuvius, Krakatau, and Pinatubo rolled into one. We marveled at the magnitude of our work.

The radio cracked to life immediately. It was battalion headquarters located in the flatlands some three miles away, excitingly inquiring as to the nature of the calamity. Flame and smoke, they stated, were coming everywhere from the mountain. They demanded information as to the cause. We were safe, we reported. We were just conducting routine field sanitation. In time the holocaust subsided to a mere roar. The air smelled of burning petroleum products. By dusk the fire was out and the opening once more sported the ammo box with the hole in it, the box which was so supportive of our daily life on the OP.”

And as Mr. Hooper went on to say, “Thirty-four years have passed since that day and I still think of the Crow’s Nest every time I hear the Beetles wailing about Eleanor Rigby. It’s the nearest thing to a flashback I’ve ever had.”

Just one funny real episode from one person serving their country. Helps put a whole new perspective on what our warriors are really like, doesn’t it?

Jerry Hogan is a retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel who lives in Heath, Texas. He can be reached at jerryhogan@sbcglobal.net or 214-394-4033. His web site is www.themilitaryview.com