Chu Lai in the afternoon, a benevolent California summerscape, harmonious mountains in the purple distance o’er looked mellow sunburned hills and innocent beaches with waves lined up for cheerful surfers. But, with respect to photographic accuracy, appliqué upon this sultry paradise, a patchwork of olive helicopters, Hueys and Shithooks (Chinooks), a squadron of camouflaged Phantoms so bitchin’ they gave me a hard on, deuce-and-a-half trucks, jeeps scooting around like busy bugs, storage vans, tents, and heaps of mysterious military stuff, all squatting ugly beneath the background roar of diesel generators. Quite a sight.
A Pair of Shithooks Flying Into Chu Lai
Nobody was expecting me. Of course. By now I was used to indifference regarding Lance Corporal Jenkins’ haphazard arrivals. Locating a plywood construction that looked like it might offer useful function, or at least a telephone, I made inquiry about the location of Bravo Battery, Second Light Anti-Aircraft Missile Battalion.
Lance Corporal Pogeybait on duty blinked several times like he was just waking up and blearily acknowledged the existence of my new unit. There was something off-kilter about the way he was acting, but I couldn’t tell what it was, not that I cared.
“Bravo, huh? Point Cluster Fuck just north of the ROKs (Korean Marines).
“How do I find it?”
“Look for the biggest shit storm in Nam,” sneered Pogeybait, “that’s Bravo Battery”.
“OK, whatever you say. Got a telephone?”
“Yeah, but you can’t use it.”
“Duty phone,” he slurred, “O-fissshal communications only.”
“Then how about you calling Bravo and get me a ride?”
Huffily he replied, “Not authorized to do that.”
I had about a bellyful of this weird asshole.
“Then how about I ‘authorize’ your scrawny chicken neck until it snaps like a pencil?”
“OK, OK, don’t get yourself worked up. Here’s the phone. Knock yourself out, FNG.”
(Fucking New Guy)
“Thanks so very much, REMF”
(Rear Echelon Mother Fucker)
He laughed. Evidently I had established my cool lingo credentials. He reached under the desk and came up with a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
That’s what it was! The reason for his odd behavior. Lance Corporal Pogeybait was snockered.
“Aren’t you on duty?”
“Yeah, but it’s groovy, man, groovy. Everybody in Chu Lai is drunk.”
“Cargo ship came in with the . . . beer. Nothing but beer, beer, beer, stacks of beer, mountains of beer. No food. No ass wipe (toilet paper). Just beer, lots of . . . beer.” He giggled.
“Yep. Supply tried to keep it under wraps, but there was just about a fuckin’ riot and the Old Man finally said shit let ‘em have it the sooner they drink it the sooner it’s gone. So every swinging dick got CASES of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Wanna beer?”
“Is it cold?”
“Fuck no! How ya gonna cool beer out here? Who cares anyway? Wanna beer?”
“I'll take a pass, don’t want to show up drunk to my new unit.”
He thought that was about the funniest thing he had ever heard.
Switchboard put me through to Bravo. I was expecting another drunk reply, but the Marine who picked up the phone on the first ring was sharp.
“Bravo battery, Lance Corporal Crisp.”
I told him who I was and that I was reporting for duty. I heard him yell.
“Hey Gunny, we expecting Lance Corporal Jenkins?”
I head a familiar voice off in the distance say, “Oh fuck me, Jenkins.”
Shit. Cunningham. Gunny Cunningham. Why did it have to be Cunningham? Shit. Shit. Shit. How the hell could he get here ahead of me? He was still at Cherry Point when I deployed, and I hadn’t wasted any time getting here. In fact, as far as I was concerned, I was at least a week early.
He picked up the phone, “Jenkins?”
I sighed, “It’s me, Gunny?”
“Where the fuck have you been? You’re late. You’re UA (unauthorized absence, the new term for AWOL, absent without leave).”
“En route, Gunny, I got here as fast as I could.”
He snarled to someone, “Give me those orders!” He slammed down the phone.
There was a moment of silence while he read. He picked the phone back up.
“You’re early. You’re a fucking week early. Why are you a week early, Jenkins, can’t you just follow the fucking program?”
This was vintage Cunningham. I was not going to win a point from him, and I had learned a long time ago not to try.
“I’m here, Gunny, can somebody come get me?”
“What am I supposed to do with you for the next week while we sort out this cluster fuck?”
There it was again, the mysterious ‘cluster fuck’ reference.
“Put me to work, Gunny, that’s what I came out here for.”
Every now and then even I was capable of saying the right thing.
Cunningham spoke to someone on his end. “Get your ass over to the pad and pick him up. Jenkins?”
“You better have your gear wired tight when you get here. I don’t need another fuck up in this already-fucked-up shit pie.”
“Aye Aye, Gunny.”
He paused, “Jenkins,” his tone had changed to something serious and significant.
“When you get out here, you keep your mouth shut and you don’t ask any of your usual smart-assed questions. You find your rack (bed), get your shit stowed, and stay out of sight until I find you. You got that?”
This was really bizarre. I had picked up that something heavy was going down.
“OK, Gunny, whatever you say.”
He hung up. Wow. Well, at least somebody knew me, even if it was my old nemesis, Cunningham. A short time later, Lance Corporal Crisp picked me up in the Battery jeep. Not just cold sober, he looked like he had stepped away from a stateside uniform inspection, blouse starched, helmet strapped, boots shined, M-14 rifle perfectly cleaned and ready. He made me look and feel like Private Shit the Ragman.
Crisp turned out to be OK, in fact, he had a wicked sense of humor I would come to appreciate.
“Man, oh man, did you ever pick the wrong time to jump into this furball.”
Remembering Cunningham’s admonition, I was guarded. “What furball?”
“You haven’t heard?”
“Heard what? That everybody in Chu Lai is drunk on warm beer?”
“Fuck that. You’re not going to believe the shit going down in Bravo.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Nothing. Nothing much . . . except Corporal Nutcase fragged the CO (commanding officer).
“Fragged the CO?”
“Well, tried to.”
“Fragged the CO!”
“But he fucked it up.”
“Fragged? Like . . . threw a grenade at the CO?”
“Yeah, fucking grenade.”
“OK, “(Whoa!) “Tell me about it.”
“So, the CO, Captain Napoleon, has a hard on for Nutcase who is a supply guy, right? And Nutcase is getting really bent out of shape, I mean he’s really starting to lose it, like he is going off the edge ‘cause he thinks the CO who is, by the way, a crazy asshole himself, and you if you ever see him you should turn invisible if you get what I’m saying, anyway, Nutcase thinks the Napoleon is out to get him and send him to Da Nang for another full tour or some weird shit.”
“Anyway, this goes on. The CO is busting Nutcase’s chops and Nutcase is getting crazier and crazier. Then two weeks ago, somebody takes a dump in the CO’s boots.”
“Yeah. Dumps a big loose load in the CO’s boots.”
“Somebody took a shit in his boots?”
“That would be affirmative.”
“How’d they do that?”
“CO puts his boots right out side the door of his hooch so they air out and don’t stink up the hooch. So somebody comes along at night and craps in them.”
“One boot or both boots?”
“Fuck should I know? Wasn’t like they was going to call formation and pass them around, like, “Can anybody identify these turds?”
Like I said, Crisp had a sense of humor.
“They said ‘boots,’ so that’s what I’m saying, boots. Fuck difference it make?”
“OK, some idiot shits in the CO’s boot . . . or boots. What happened?”
“Well, CO knows it’s Nutcase and goes after him, but Nutcase says, “Sir, I did not defecate in your foot ware, Sir.”
“Defecate. Foot ware.”
“Yep. CO screams, ‘Yes, you did, you fucking Kike.’ Did I mention that Nutcase is Jewish?”
“Yeah, Jewish. So Nutcase does not like that shit one bit. He says, ‘Prove it.’ CO says, ‘I don’t have to prove shit.’ Nutcase says, ‘Yes, Sir, that’s exactly what you have to prove, shit. You have to prove shit. You have to prove that shit came out of my puckered Kike ass hole and dropped into your shiny goddamn Goyim boots.’ Then the CO screams “I’m going to bust you to Private and you’re going to spend the rest of your fucking life in Leavenworth (federal penitentiary). You are restricted to your quarters. Sergeant-at-arms, get this filth out of my sight.”
Crisp, looked over at me, smiled.
“So . . . ?”
“So, that same night, it happened.”
He paused for dramatic effect.
“They play Taps (he imitates the evening bugle call) Duh ta duh, Duh ta Duh. Nutcase sneaks up to the O-hooch (Officers’ quarters), opens the screen door and yells ‘Everybody but Napoleon get out!” He pulls the pin on a grenade and tosses it in. Fuck, man, hair, teeth, and eyeballs, the four guys who live in that hooch are diving for the other door. CO is out first and safe, wouldn’t you know? Then Gunner Salty ( Gunner is slang for warrant officer, not to be confused with Gunny which is slang for Gunnery Sergeant) gets out, then the XO (Executive Officer), he gets out, too. Top OldCorps (slang for First Sergeant) is last and not quite out the door when the grenade pops and he catches shrapnel everywhere down his back, legs, ass, head, everywhere.”
“No, but he’s pretty chewed up and already trying to deal it into a Purple Heart.”
I chuckled. “Yeah, go Top. So, what happens to Nutcase?”
“He’s got a bunch more grenades and his rifle and maybe some claymores (anti-personnel mines) and some other shit and he climbs on top of the 45 Club (a beer shack for corporals and sergeants) and gets behind the lookout. He’s hunkered down up there where he can see the whole camp and he’s yelling that we’ll never take him alive and that he’ll shoot anyone who comes after him.”
“You got that right. So we all got our heads down and Doc (Navy corpsman/paramedic) patches up Top OldCorps gets him in the jeep and off to Wing hospital, and pretty soon, here comes the CO shouting orders and nobody is listening and Gunner Salty comes over and tells the CO to shut the fuck up. Gunner has steel balls, by the way, and he’s a good guy, and him and Nutcase have not got into each other’s shit, so Gunner just strolls over to the 45 and starts climbing the ladder. Nutcase is yelling ‘I’ll shoot you, I’ll shoot you,” but Gunner ignores him and just gets to the top and squats down and starts talking real low. This goes on for a while so we all pop up and come out to listen but we can’t hear what they’re saying. After a while we hear Nutcase laugh and then Gunner laughs. Gunner yells ‘Somebody bring us a couple of beers and some smokes.’”
“Then the CO starts yelling at Gunner and Gunner yells “Shut the fuck up . . . Sir.” Then the CO yells some more and Gunner ignores him and we all know who is in charge of Bravo right now and it ain’t the CO. Finally we see Nutcase climb down.”
“Still have his weapon?”
“No. Gunner brings it down with him. They go into Nutcase’s hooch. After a while the MPs show up and take Nutcase away.”
“So what happened to him?”
“No word yet, but all we’ve been doing for two weeks is giving testimony and answering questions and covering our ass. CO vanished the day after the fragging and the XO is supposed to be in charge, but they transferred Gunner over to HQ (headquarters) and Top is out on the Repose (Navy hospital ship).”
“So who is running the show?”
“Gunny Cunningham is running Bravo Battery?”
“Yeah, he showed up about three days ago, and, daddy-o, that man is the real deal. Took him one day to get us squared away. You’ll see how it is.”
“I already know how it is. I spent a year with Cunningham at 3rd LAAM.”
“Fucking A! When the shit comes down, I want that bad assed motherfucker in charge of my young self, Gung Fucking Ho.”
“Everyone feel that way?”
Well, well, well. CO of Cluster Fuck Battery is fragged, or almost, and Cunningham is the big dog for all these Marines. Not what I expected of my combat mission to Viet Nam.