Never Volunteer ...

Pop Flare!
by: Steve Nagle

© 2006

12CAG in Plantation Vietnam, 71-72: Charlie must have laughed---we didn't! Standing guard duty was never fun. We crewmembers flew all day and then got word when we landed, and after pre-flight inspections and putting the bird to bed, that we had second watch---midnight to six A.M.
      Tower 13 was the least desired post. A high tower on the Jungle side of our compound, was dark and the furthest from the hooches. It seemed that night we had several of the "fly boys" all standing guard in the same tower. I remember the stillness, the noises out there, the bone chilling fear, not knowing ....
      About 2:30 A.M., we heard noises in the night. We called the Sergeant of the Guard for permission to pop a flare. These hand held flares were different colors, but we always used white. You took off the cap and placed it on the bottom of the silver tube which was a little larger than a road flare. While holding the side of the tube, you smacked the cap on something hard. Doing so fired the small pyrotechnic flare up 50-75 feet before a small charge would "pop" and ignite the white phosphorus. It was suspended on a small parachute which would keep the illumination for a few minutes. As the flare would swing on the end of this parachute it would cause shadows to sway and dance in the night.
      Well here we are scared crapless in the middle of the night, in the worst tower for guard duty, in the middle of Vietnam---hearing noises in the wire! We finally got permission to shoot off an illumination flare. Except, nobody in the tower had ever fired one before! You do it! No. You do it! No you do it! I'll watch. We went round and round with that because nobody wanted to do it.
      I finally got brave (suckered into doing it) and volunteered. I removed the cap placing it on the firing end of the flare. I aimed it out of the tower and smacked the cap to ignite the flare. The flare launched beautifully! But to my shock, it hit the edge of the tower roof and bounced right back at us, and ricocheted on the inside walls of the tower. We danced and dodged to get out of its way! Hollering and yelling as the sparks flew and the flare kept banging against the tower walls.
      After several minutes of dodging this missile it came to rest, and with a pop ignited the white phosphorus flare blinding us. I squinted to see where it had landed. To my horror it was burning brightly on a box of grenades! We yelled and started throwing everything out of the tower. I picked up the burning phosphorus with an old flak jacket and threw it over board. Several of the guys were already on the ground as they had un-assed the tower when the flare came back inside!
      When my turn for guard duty came around, nobody wanted to stand guard with me, unless I promised not to get near the flares!

There were so many incidents like this that it's a wonder any of us got back to the world!


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