It’s irrelevant to say ‘exactly’ what time it was because over there ‘time’ was neither a deterrent or an advantage. It was, quite simply, measured and broken down into hundreds. Either way, the ‘only’ damn thing that mattered was that the operational orders to square away the congested area in question of the Ho Chi Minh Trail were to be carried out… period!
As I recall it went down something like this…
“Clear this freakin’ muddy runway along here Wrench,” the lieutenant yelled at me with conviction as he drew his finger across the wrinkles of the terrain map he was holding. “Those are my freakin’ orders from those that are in charge over here in this piss hole country and I’m passin’ them right along to you… comprende?”
I stood there just inside the sandbagged confines of the Command Post and rubbed at my early morning mechanized eyes. I knew that I wasn’t dreaming, yet at the very same instant, I truly wished that I was.
“Yes, sir. I can do that sir,” I said in return with decidedly glib confidence. “My Rome Plow is all fueled up LT and we are good to go!”
“That’s good Wrench,” he replied. “You shouldn’t have any foreseeable problems with this damn clearing mission. You’ll have to plow over some freakin’ jungle trees and other shit so be careful. There have been no recent recon reports of Charlie where you’ll be workin’ so just take your time and get it done.”
“Beg pardon LT, but ain’t there a lot of crazy ass monkeys swingin’ around up in those jungle trees and shit? I don’t think they’re gonna’ take kindly to me bulldozin’ down their tree houses!”
“Screw those spooky little dinky dow bastards Wrench. Here, take this 45 pistol with you and bring your primary weapon M-16 for back up. If those little bastards start any shit let ‘em have it. Just bury their swingin’ dick bodies under the HCMT with your damn dozer comprende?”
“Roger that LT. I can dig it… so to speak,” I replied.
“Okay then, get that damn machine of yours fired up and get started. The big brass wants this thing done and done asap. Get it done Wrench… Git!”
And, at that, I performed a rather herky-jerky about face and hauled ass out to my RP bulldozer.
The blistering sun was already making its presence known and felt as I climbed aboard ‘Big Brigitte’ and fired her up. She belched out a plume of black exhaust and shimmied a bit just to inform me that she was ready for action. I complied with her show of readiness by engaging her transmission and raising and lowering the massive mud covered front blade a bit with a deft push and pull on an operational lever or two. In only moments me and BB were off and rolling for our ‘assignment’ out along the convoluted confines of the HCMT. The rising, indifferent sun would be the ‘only’ witness to the insanity that was to follow us just ahead!
I breached a muddy embankment and coerced BB up, up, up and over it, then down into an unholy, muddy rut that was truly not meant for man ‘nor’ beast to travel upon. Be that as it may I plowed ahead, literally, until I came up on a rather sizable stand and a thicket of stretching trees. The damn things seemed to grow in and around each other like vertical snakes of some kind. The emerald canopies flapped and overlapped each other as if God himself had planned it all to be just that way. According to the LT, these all had to go… period. I shrugged a bit with indifference and then plowed right straight into it all with BB’s monster maw raised to what I decided was an appropriate level. I had been making slow, but steady progress on felling them and then suddenly… a loud ‘THWUMP!’ right over my head. Something had apparently hit or landed on the roof of my enclosure cage. I snatched up the 45 and cocked it. I was frozen in fear as I sat there with owl eyes and waited, for exactly ‘what’ I had no clue.
2 very long minutes later
‘THWUMP!’ ‘THWUMP!’ ‘THWUMP!’ they were landing all around and about my Rome Plow.
“Freakin’ Monkeys!” I shouted out half laughing and half in a worried shock. I hesitated a moment as they mulled around my machine looking in at me with their decidedly unhappy pink monkey faces and wide, black marble eyes. Quite a few began to display their yellow scimitar-like fangs. They most certainly were pissed off and had no fear of me ‘that’ was plain to see. Then the screeching and raucous howling began and at ‘that’ point… I had had enough. I began to indiscriminately open fire on the rabid dinky dow bastards.
Approximately 1 minute later
I had used up my entire clip of ammo in the 45 pistol. But the bastards were dropping down from everywhere now. I killed some and chased away some others, but they were relentless. It was raining monkeys! I reached around behind me to grab my M-16 rifle, but to my complete surprise, it was gone. I looked out the back wire meshing of my cage and saw that one of the damn monkeys (a big one compared to the majority) was inspecting it with his tactile little monkey ass hands. The bastard, somehow (on purpose or not I’ll never know), managed to eject the ammo clip I had locked in! I screwed around with him for a while and finally managed to reach through and grab the muzzle of my weapon. I yanked it back inside and slapped it down at my combat booted feet. I was screwed and surrounded. After a series of curse words, I made my decision…
I had to get the hell out of there!
I raised BB’s iron, bloody monkey laden blade up high and slammed her into forward gear. We tracked off together like a steel tread wrapping bat out of hell. I didn’t bother to backtrack the awkward way we came up and onto the daunting HCMT. I went flat out, taking the long winding way around. I surely prayed that this would, eventually, lead back to the friendly confines of the Command Post inside the periphery of the fencing and twisted hedges of our camp’s intimidating and decidedly ominous barbed wire.
Approximately one hour later
After what seemed like an eternity of gear grinding and grumbling in the waning light of the unforgiving sun there, just ahead, were a thousand pin glimmers of silvered serpentine hope. It was the brand new coiled concertina wire and barbed wire that surrounded the periphery of the command post and its woebegone, muddy confines.
We were back!
I was given a singular middle finger gesture by the guy who was walking post. He was smoking something, but I can almost assure you that it wasn’t a cigarette. I returned this comically rude gesture and he waived me and BB through the wire and ahead with a shrug and a tired smile.
I wheeled BB right on up to the CP and hopped down. I circumnavigated her looking for dead and wounded monkeys. Having gratefully come up with a zero body count. I went inside to try and locate the lieutenant who sent me out on this dinky dow assignment along the HCMT.
As luck or fate would have it, in the brief time I was out felling trees and shooting monkeys, the lieutenant in question had gotten his papers and was rotated out and back to the states. Lucky for him and in an odd way lucky for me as well. I left the spent 45 pistol on the end of a long table that was festooned with multiple curls of terrain maps and other nebulous bric-a-brac that had no more use or function in that crazy war. I saluted nobody in particular, shrugged my shoulders, did a kind of half-ass about face and walked out to BB. I slapped her on her raised sexy iron blade. Hopped aboard her again and hauled ass on back to my motor pool.
“Mission accomplished big girl,” I whispered to myself. “Now, let’s get the hell out of here!”
Afterthought: I never did hear anything back from anybody again about that whole damn monkey business assignment. I figured that I must have done a good job out there on the HCMT, and left it at that!
Wrench Sergeant/United States Army
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
This is a collaboration by myself and a Vietnam/Cambodia war veteran (my friend). It is completely based on fact(s) that he experienced in Southeast Asia.