The last glimmer of light crowned the distant trees and slowly faded to blackness. I sat on a sandbagged bunker drinking a cup of hot chocolate. I looked up at the stars and listened to the sounds from the jungle, unusual but somehow soothing. They reminded me of the sounds in the Florida swamps near Big Tree Park. Even the smells of the jungle were familiar, reminding me of peaceful nights camping a few miles from home.
A few yards to my right, my third squad leader, Staff Sergeant Baker, was giving final instructions to two of his men before they moved out to
Photo: E. Franklin Evans, LZ Christmas 1968.
their listening post. He spoke quietly. “All right, you guys, I want you to maintain complete silence while you’re out there. Only use your radio to send your hourly SITREPS. Use your push-to-talk switch to break squelch. Once for ‘yes’ or ‘everything’s OK.’ Squeeze the switch twice for ‘negative’ or ‘we’ve got movement.’ Got it?”
“Yeah, Sarge. We know,” replied one of the men.
“Well, this is Brown’s first time on LP, so I want to make sure you all got it right.”
“Don’t worry ’bout me, Sarge. I got it,” said PFC Brown.
“OK. Move out and be quiet moving into your position. Let me know when you’re all set. Keep your ears alert for Charlie. We know the VC are moving through this area at night.”
The LPs quietly moved into their night locations using the designated paths through the protective wire defenses. Should they have to return quickly, they would use these same routes to run back to the safety of the perimeter. Upon arriving in their night positions they radioed back and maintained silence. Hourly situation reports, or SITREPS, would be relayed to the platoon CP through the prearranged radio signals. No voice communications would be sent unless enemy movement was detected. Earlier in the day the company’s 81mm mortars had registered defensive fires. Our supporting 105mm artillery battery was prepared to provide indirect fire support if necessary. These fires would help cover the quick return of the LPs.
I sipped my cocoa and tried to spot any movement in the blackness in the jungle in front of me. Ahead in the darkness, I heard the sound of the “re-up” bird. “Ree-uup, ree-uup” was its high-pitched trill. Re-up was the army slogan for “reenlist.” Re-up for four more years was the cry of the battalion reenlistment NCO. More often than not, the answer from the soldier was an impolite version of “No way, Sarge.” Tonight, a jungle lizard answered the bird with a staccato “F*** you. F*** you.” I heard the snickers from the soldiers on the bunker on my left. They enjoyed this jungle sonata, which echoed their own sentiments. Re-up? F*** you. You found humor in unlikely places in the bush, and this small bit of humor was peculiarly calming.
Next to me, on the top of the bunker, the squad leader had arranged his ammunition, grenades, radio, and protective gas mask. In the dark, he would know exactly where the needed supplies were located so he wouldn’t have to fumble or search for them in the darkness. The firing devices for the claymore mines were also in pre-selected spots for quick retrieval. I could hear the men of the platoon beginning to settle into the routine for the evening. Each bunker would have at least one sentry, and throughout the night every man would, in turn, pull his share of night watch. Sergeant Chapel and I would take turns checking the bunkers to ensure that the sentries remained awake. Each squad leader maintained contact with the LPs to his front and reported their status to my radio operator hourly.
“Quiet tonight, Lieutenant,” said Sergeant Chapel as he perched next to me on the bunker.
“Yeah. Just hope it remains quiet.”
“The CO just sent a runner to the CP. He has a mission for us tomorrow. Looks like we’ll be leaving this patrol base in the afternoon. He wants to see all the platoon leaders in the morning at 0715.”
“OK. Where are we headed?”
“Somewhere called Duc Lap.”
“OK. Well, the LPs are in position now and I’m ready to settle in for the night. How about you? Which shift do you want?”
“I’m not tired, so I guess I’ll take the first one.”
“In that case, I’m heading to the hootch for a few hours of sleep. Wake me when it’s my turn.”
As Sergeant Chapel departed in one direction and I in another, I heard a soft “Ree-uup. Ree-uup.” To my left, in the vicinity of the second squad, I also heard a softer “F***you. F*** you.” Lizard or bird? Or soldier? Who knows? In the blackness they all sounded alike.
E. Franklin Evans