The keyword this week is OASIS.
A Human Oasis
Biff kicked me in the head, to wake me. I think he enjoyed that little dig at authority. "Tanks coming back, boss."
I'd been lying in the shade by the New Guy tank, trying to sleep away a bit of the day, because Charlie had been keeping us up nights with mortars. War is hell, and makes me cranky.
"Oh, good. They didn't get lost." The Dude and Sonny had been tasked to run down the beach, to pick up a stranded VIP. Apparently Oceanview was going to get its very own USO show, and the APC carrying the act had thrown a track. So we had to provide a taxi, while the APC crew and the escorts reshod their lame mount.
It was a strange feeling to see our tank - our home, after all - moving with me in it. I could see The Dude in the driver's position, the big gun turned slightly so it wasn't over his head, and Sonny was sitting in the loader's hatch atop the turret, one hand on the side of the commander's cupola, leaning in to talk with the person who was standing in what was normally my place.
This someone was dressed in a set of utilities, and wore a CVC helmet, but the long reddish-blond hair that cascaded out from under the helmet wasn't Marine issue.
Biff looked at me. "Do you know who that is?"
I shook my head. This far up-country, I'd expected, at best, a Filipino pop group with huge amps and a small repertoire.
"I think it's Ann-Margaret."
The tank ground to a stop...a very smooth stop, short of our revetment. The Dude used the gun tube to lever himself out of the driver's position, and Sonny stood on the turret. Both were extending their hands, formally, to help our VIP.
Who, when she took off the helmet, was indeed Ann-Margaret.
"Hi," she said, with a bright smile.
Sonny took her hand, beating The Dude by a heartbeat. "Gennelmen...ah'd lahk ta innedouce y'all to Miss Ann-Margaret." He bowed, and held out her hand with a flourish that almost pushed her off the turret.
The arrival had not gone unnoticed, and the grunts who weren't on duty started drifting toward us. They moved shyly, and often stopped to talk among themselves, in small, anxious groups.
Ann-Margaret's smile faded, just a little. She was used to being crowded, and jostled, and pawed. These boys with old mens' eyes, who manned the closest outpost to the Z, were an evolving mystery.
The Dude stood next to her. "Ma'am,, why don't we get off the tank?"
She looked at him, puzzled. The tank was a kind of stage, placing her above the spectators. "The guys there...they're kind of worried, ma'am." The Dude pointed north. "We're a little exposed, standing here."
"Oh!" She smiled again. "Of course." She looked around. "What's the best way to get down?"
Sonny had slid down the glacis in front, and was holding out his arms. "Just let our friend there catch you...that's right...just slide on down..."
Sonny caught the actress, very gingerly, and set her on her feet. He received a kiss on the cheek, and under the grime and stubble that covered his face, a blush rose. He stammered something that sounded like "Aw, shucks". At least I hoped that's what it was.
There were no microphones, and there was no stage. There was just one gracious, lovely, and slightly bemused young woman standing amid a group of shy and retiring killers. She led them in song, and signed their boonie hats and web gear and Bibles.
She kissed dirty cheeks, and hugged bony shoulders that were worn down from heat, humidity, and the carriage of weapons.
She took names and addresses, and promised to write to parents.
The war stopped for a moment, when Ann-Margaret dropped in.
Too soon there was the sound of rotor blades; a Huey was coming to take her away. She knew, and we knew, but before the beat of the blades destroyed the moment, there was time for one more song.
"You'll Never Walk Alone."
As she finished, I looked to The Dude, and then looked away, for he was crying.