It's All The Rage, Back In The World
Oceanview’s a nice name, conjuring up sweeping vista of a sandy shoreline fringed by breakers, and a sapphire sea. Quite the place for a vacation.
Well, maybe not, because Oceanview is in the dunes just inland from the South China Sea, at the top right corner of the Republic of Viet Nam, hard by the DMZ. The dunes are lovely, yes, but they’ve got enough unexploded ordnance in them to start a small war, to go along with our medium-sized one.
And, of course, on the other side of the DMZ you’ll find the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam.
Oceanview wasn’t even a firebase, having no organic artillery. It existed to monitor the DMZ, and call in naval gunfire, and tube artillery from Con Thien and the Rockpile, to give Charlie’s infiltration efforts a gold star for effort, but a red “x” for execution.
Charlie didn’t much like Oceanview, and its protection consisted of Marine riflemen and a section of tanks; the tanks rotated out every week.
We arrived for our week on a day I don’t remember, because days of the week really didn’t matter – only DEROS did, for Sonny, Biff, and me, that day was further off than was worth thinking about.
It was even further away for The Dude, since he’d volunteered to extend for eighteen months. We thought he had a Vietnamese girlfriend somewhere, since he spoke what sounded to us like fluent Vietnamese.
“Nah,” he’d say when pressed. “I’m staying because this is the only place that makes nuoc mam like Mom used to.”
So The Dude – a blond-haired blue-eyed California – had a mother who fed him that hallmark Vietnamese delicacy…fermented fish sauce. Interesting, or completely fictional, and in Viet Nam, did it really matter which?
Oceanview’s only recreation was taking the occasional shot with the main gun at NVA fishing a few miles up the beach, past the Z. The 90mm cannon wasn’t ranged for those distances, but with the tube elevated and the tank parked upslope, it was possible to lob a ballistic shot into the right area.
No one ever hit a fisherman, or probably ever would. That made the game fun. Killing the poor jerks would have been a drag. But we sure scared some, and there were some Olympic track hopefuls we sent roostertailing through the sand for the shelter of the trees.
This was really Sonny’s forte, and he could get a guaranteed underwear change every time. If they wore underwear. And with Biff’s brawny help loading, he could get three shells in the air before the first one landed. And so went the week, on Uncle Sam's ammo dime.
Which was why the general’s visit was less of a pain than things like that usually are. Broke the routine.
The general arrived in an APC, escorted by – thank, God! – our relief. He was a shiny Marine two-star with a polished helmet and a polished pistol belt and a wrinkled uniform that looked slept in. He had a nice smile, and he was jovial when he came by the tank to say hi.
“Private, exactly WHAT is that thing around your neck?”
The Dude grinned. “It’s a little pendant, general. My mom sent it to me. Wanna see?”
The general said, “It’s not authorized, son. You’ll have to take it off.”
The Dude fished it out, looked at the shiny dangly thing, and showed it to the Brass. “Aw, c’mon, man, it’s small. Might lose it in the tank. Dig?”
I’d never seen a general turn that color before, nor make that kind of sputtering, stuttering sound.
He was interrupted by a scrEEEECH – CLANGGGG!!!!!!!!!
Bad news. It was a B-40 rocket, and it had bounced off the tank’s hull. Nice that it missed, but it meant that there was an RPG team out there, and they were even now reloading. A second miss was unlikely.
The tank was parked side-on to the wire, revetted hull-down, the gun tube pointing left. Sonny and Biff were into the turret as quickly as they could move, and I jumped into the TC’s cupola, grabbed my binoculars, and started scanning for the team. I hoped the next rocket wouldn’t take my head off. That happened, sometimes.
There! Movement in the low scrub, by a distinctive bit of shrubbery, fifty yards away. And they were fumbling, probably tired from having infiltrated through the Z the night before. “Sonny, I have control, track with the sight, big bush, looks like a tit with a nipple. Under that.” I rotated the turret with the override handle, walking Sonny onto the target.
“Ah gots ‘em. Biff, y’all wanna up some canister?”
Cannister is like a three-and-a half-inch diameter shotgun shell, good for turning folks into pink mist.
“Up!” Biff clanged shut the breech.
And then time stood still, for I saw to my horror that the general had moved around to the gun side, and was standing in line with the muzzle brake, a short horizontal tube that made a ‘T’ on the end of the main gun, and deflected combustion gasses sideways, to reduce recoil. General Shiny was going to be really unhappy in a second.
Then he was gone, tackled by The Dude, and pinned to the sand, flat.
The gun boomed, and flames shot out the sides of the muzzle break, lighting off The Dude’s blouse. He rolled off the general and onto his back, to douse the flames.
The RPG team was gone. Cannister sure cured clumsiness.
General Shiny got to his feet. He was caked in sand, and his mouth hung open. He looked at me, and then looked at The Dude.
“Okay, son, that THING around your neck. Let’s have it.” He spoke at a shout. Tank guns are loud.
The Dude knew when he was done. He slipped the chain over his head. The medallion said “LOVE” in two-stacked letters, the “O” leaning.
“It’s all the rage back in the world,” he said sadly.
“All the rage,” said the general. “Yeah.”
He reached up to his collar suddenly, and unpinned a star. He held it out to The Dude. “Wanna trade?”