My First Night At Quan Loi
Memories are like a big picture that over time gets cracks and tears much like the pieces of an old puzzle. Thy float around as fragments; occasionally two pieces connect to start to form a memory. This could be brought on by a picture, hearing a name, or listening to a story. As the pieces connect they act as magnets and draw others towards themselves. Eventually the picture becomes clearer, but there are still gaps like the missing pieces of the puzzle. At times those missing pieces are replaced with contaminated pieces that could have been influenced by movies or books. Even hearing a story that is similar to an experience can cause the memory to be corrupted and not actually the way it happened.
By random chance a face escapes and passes through the conscious. It is briefly recognizable and then drawn back to the abyss of the subconscious waiting to escape again. For that moment you see it, but when you try to hold on hoping for a clearer view it slips away, leaving only a distorted image for you to long after, and a feeling of loss. You don’t know if what you saw was an actual depiction of someone, or something your mind has invented. The same is true with events, and I find myself wondering if what I remember is really the way it was, or just images my mind has accepted as real.
This may seem like a strange way to start a story, but I want to qualify what I am writing as the way I remember it.
When my Caribou touched down at Quan Loi, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Walking down the loading ramp I got my first look at the place that would be my home for the next year and I wasn’t impressed. At Service Battery I had been told Quan Loi had a P.X. and with that information thought it would be something bigger and cleaner looking, like Long Binh. The red dust and gravel being thrown around by the plane’s props stung as I desperately looked around hoping someone would be there to take me to the battery. Luckily someone was there; I’m not sure what I would have done if left to find my own ride.
Stark introduced himself, I climbed into the Jeep, and we headed out towards the battery. I was hanging on his every word hoping to get some insight on how to stay alive in this place. The only thing I remember about that conversation now is, “If you have to be over here, this isn’t that bad of a place to be” and he was right. I discovered there were a lot worse places over there.
When we arrived at the battery, he took me to the Commo personnel bunker then went to find someone from Commo to help me get organized. I walked down the ramp, which served as stairs, into the semi- dark bunker and found a bunk that looked vacant. I dropped my belongings on the floor, and then sat on the bunk wondering what the hell I was doing here. I didn’t know anything about fighting a war and wasn’t crazy about O.J.T. when it came to survival.
unpacking my gear, trying to guess what was in store for me next, when two guys
came in and asked,” Where’s the new
The day was going along fine; I had been introduced to the first sergeant, Sergeant Anderson, and my new section chief Sergeant Quinonus. (Not sure about the spelling) I had been to the mess hall with those I would be working with, and got to experience my first fire mission as I looked for some place to hide when the guns went off. Everyone seemed friendly and eager to help in any way they could.
The turning point came when my section chief found me and said I had been added to the guard duty roster for that night. I immediately had visions of walking sentry around the ammo dump, or at the battery entrance like in basic training. Little did I know how different it was in the real world when it came to pulling guard at Quan Loi. Someone, I’m not sure who, took me to where the duty roster was located and then to where guard mount was held.
I cleaned my rifle real good, because I didn’t have any idea what I would be guarding, or how well the Officer of the guard would be inspecting it at guard mount. I had entered the serious stage now, and I didn’t want to make any mistakes that would have me coming off as some sort of screw up. Afterward, I went over the general orders, hoping I wouldn’t be asked anything regarding them.
I put on my steel pot and flack vest, strapped my gas mask to my leg as I was told to do in training, slung my rifle over my shoulder, and walked over to the guard mount area. There looked to be about twenty of us when the Officer of the guard came. I strategically lined up in the last row, that way if there were any questions about the general orders, the O.G. might be tired of asking them by the time he got to me.
I listened closely as he went from man to man, but heard no questions about the general orders. The only questions I heard were things like “When was the last time you cleaned this Jones?” or “Do you think you used enough oil on that bolt Peterson?” It became apparent he was more interested in the rifles being in working order than us knowing the general orders. He finally came to me and as he was inspecting my rifle he ask, “New in country?”
“You’ll be fine.”
He was very reassuring, and it must have been my new green fatigues, and pale skin that gave me away.
When he was finished, we all received the password for the night, and our bunker assignments. I was introduced to the two soldiersI would be pulling guard with, they were “Stark, and Stevens (AKA B-Son). We were then dismissed to get chow and prepare whatever it was we wanted to take out there with us. I didn’t really know what to take other than what I had, and after chow I just hung around the area so I wouldn’t miss my ride.
After a little while, everyone started coming back, the armory was opened, and they started loading ammo crates on a Three quarter-ton. Along with the crates, they loaded some M-60’s, and M-79’s. When those were loaded, we climbed into the back, and headed out for the perimeter. I was more anxious than I had been since arriving in country, I didn’t have any clue where we were going, or what was going to happen when we got there.
We pulled out of the battery area, and turned left along the road that went around the airstrip. On our left side was “A” battery, and on our right was the airstrip. We drove the width of “A” battery, and turned left again. This took us past an area that looked out of place here. It was shrouded with flowers, and decorative trees.
Stark pointed to the area, “That’s where Frenchie has a mansion and swimming pool, if you’re lucky and they get the pool fixed, you may get to go swimming in it.”
Now this I really didn’t expect. After passing that, and turning left, we were on the perimeter, and the truck came to a halt. Stark and Stevens hopped out; one grabbed an ammo crate while the other grabbed an M-60. “Unless you want to sleep on the sandbags, grab some cots.” I thought cots sounded better than sandbags and grabbed a couple. I had just gotten them off the truck, when it took off heading for the next bunker, and leaving us.
I now stood on the bunker looking at the concertina wire and again wondered what the hell I was doing here. Dropping the cots on the sandbags, which made up the top of the bunker, I looked around at my surroundings. In front of the bunker was the perimeter road and to the left the road that led back to the airstrip. On the front left a tower, and to the right, were the bunkers that made up the Green line. On the left were more bunkers that were staggered on each side of the road.
Just beyond the tower lay concertina wire and then a valley. It looked to be about three quarters to a mile across to the ridge where the rubber trees began. Between; I could see thick, lush, green foliage that could conceal anyone trying to approach for an attack. Seeing this raised my level of concern considerably. The bunkers were dug into the side of the slope, and had sandbags covering all the exposed areas. There were firing ports in the front, and at each side to cover the bunkers to the left and right. They were staggered along the perimeter road in order to maximize their firepower and give them over lapping protection. Each bunker had three soldiers on it, and in the front were claymores, and occasionally a fifty-five gallon drum filled with J P 4. In the concertina wire there were trip flairs as well as c-rat cans with rocks in them for early warning. Even with all that, I wasn’t feeling all that secure out there.
After getting settled in, a sleep rotation was set up and I had the second watch which meant I could “try” to sleep first. I lay on the cot for a bit, but no use; I wasn’t going to get any sleep. I then tried the sandbags, still no good. For all I knew, I would never sleep again. At about Ten O-Clock, the O.G. came out with some coffee and cake, and to make sure things were alright. After he left I tried to relax and take a nap, but found it very difficult to do. Over head I could hear the steady drone from the Cobra helicopter keeping a lookout from the night sky. It sounded peaceful, but it wasn’t soothing enough to put me to sleep, yet.
Before long my turn to stand watch came while the others slept. I stared into the blackness trying to see if anyone or anything might be out there. I had never seen it so dark that you could see nothing at all, and that made me listen more closely. I heard every little noise made by the animals in the area, and soon I began to think about what I would be doing if I were at home. I wasn’t sure what day of the week it happened to be; then I heard it, as clear as could be. I grabbed Stark by the arm whispering, “Listen! There’s someone out there!”
Stark raised his head, and again I heard it, this time clearer than before
Stark and Stevens both started laughing and said, “That’s the fuck you lizard, It’s probably the only thing in this country that speaks English well enough that you can understand what it’s saying.”
I was amazed that an animal could make that kind of sound, and listened all the more intently in case something else was out there. Not long after, I heard some voices coming from “A” Battery, then an engine started and I had no idea what was about to happen. BOOM! BOOM! went the first volley of fire from the guns. I dove for cover behind the sandbags thinking we were under attack, then another volley of fire and I realized what was going on. Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep that night and was mighty glad when the sun came up.
When we got back to the battery we had to clean our weapons before eating; I remember thinking, “only 360 more sleepless nights to go.”
HHB, 6/27th Artillery