“Wannahini ala meanie and a waikiki..” Frank said, undulating a hula dance.
“Cut it out, Frank. You’re going to get us tossed out of here.” We were in a little bar off Bishop Street in Honolulu. The war in Vietnam was over for us and since we’d always wanted to go to Hawaii, we used our savings and bonus money to hit the warm and inviting sands of Paradise. We had thirty days leave, also typical after returning from the war so we were in no kind of rush. We’d climbed down the steps of a Pan Am 707 the day before, grinning from ear to ear. I was still wearing a cast on my leg -the remnant from a gunshot wound I suffered in my last few days in Vietnam. When you’re short, that is, about to rotate back home, they gave us light duty for the final week. I just wouln’t be right to get shot after making it through the war.
I was sitting on my bunk, bored out of my mind in Phan Rang. Frank, my best buddy from Basic through the war had arived two weeks earlier than me and so he left two weeks before I did. A true friend, he checked into Ft. Dix, NJ, near his home and waited to start his 30 day leave until I got back. Anyway, I was sitting in the sweltering heat when the Loo came in looking for volunteers for a short perimeter patrol.
“I’ll go, Lieutenant.” I said, violating the ages old tradition of never volunteering.
“You’re short, Kirkpatrick. No patrols for you. Maybe KP, but nothing too dangerous.”
I got nothing on the schedule board until my DEROS Loo.” (DEROS = date of return from overseas). It’s a perimeter patrol around Phan Rang, right? With a zillion soldiers and an air force base. Charlie’s crazy but not stupid.” I said, digging a pit for myself.
“Well, if you’re volunteering… go meet Sergeant Coffee in front of the duty shack.” I nodded, grabbed my M-16 and web gear loaded with magazines and a couple of canteens. I stopped at the water spigot and filled the canteens with potable water and found Coffee where the Lieutenant said he’d be.
“Hey, Sarge,” said Coffee, what’re you doing here?”
“I was bored.” I said. Coffee laughed.
Also with Coffee were Don Turner, a Spec 4, Willie Tanner, a PFC, Ralph Mora, a hard stripe corporal and our radio guy, and then me. “This is us,” said Coffee. The base had been taking nightly mortar rounds at night all week. We can see generally where they’re shooting from, but when they check in the morning there’s no sign except for matted down brush and grasses. We’re gonna play dirty on them and set up a bunch of Claymores with remotes and tripwires. A Claymore was a vicious weapon. Made of five pounds of C4 plastique, one side was embedded with steel shot, The backside had a sheet of steel that caused the force to move outwards, shredding and blowing up anything in a 50 foot range. It was slightly curved and it bowed out where it said “This Side Towards Enemy.” The sarge indicated a couple of duffel bags loaded with them. We distributed them around, packing everyone’s ruck with as many as could be jammed inside. Only Ralph was exempt because he was already packing a PRC 10 radio unit to stay in contact with our mission command.
We humped it out past the perimeter and started our sweep, looking for signs of activity. No allied personnel went outside the concertina wire except on the roads, no any sign was signs of Charlie. We found a spot and could even make out easily where the baseplate and bipod legs of the mortar had been set up. We moved away from it and set up a circle of tripwired Claymores that created a 100 or so foot circular killzone. We moved along at a leisurely pace, placing two or three Claymores where it appeared that the VC were tamping a path and more circular killzones where we saw they’d setup shooting positions. We’d fully covered the area after about for hours worth of work and were making our way back to one of the checkpoints where the wire was separated for patrols like ours. They were guarded by a full squad 24/7.
We were about 300 yards from the breach when we crept right into six or seven black pajama clad Vietnamese. They wore the typical pointed straw hats to keep the hot tropical sun from their faces, but more than that, they each had an AK-47 assault rifle slung over their shoulder. I hate to admit it, but we were surprised to find them so close to base and we were slow on the uptake. Both side dropped to the ground and started firing. My position was too exposed for my tastes and so I scrabbled towards some brush. I was almost there when it felt like a sledgehammer hit my thigh. I rolled onto my side and looked down and saw blood soaking my pantleg. Maybe two seconds later the shotting stopped and our patrol hopped up and moved in on the VC position. I heard a few single shots as the team made sure these men wouldn’t be shooting at anymore Americans. It was then they realized they were a man down and came rushing back to find me.
“Goddammit Wheezer!” shouted Coffee. This is why you don’t do patrols when you’re short, and why you damn sure shouldn’t volunteer!”
Turner ripped my pantleg open wider and wrapped a battle dressing to my leg while Ralph called for a medivac. The guys stood with me, using their bodies to shade me while they waited for the chopper and looking around for any more unexpected visitors. It took only 15 minutes to get a bird to me and maybe 30 seconds to get me loaded onto a little. As the Huey rose to flight level, a medic shot me with some very appreciated morphine. When you first get shot, the nerves are stunned. It takes a minute or two for the pain to set in. When it does, you start screaming and making deals with god.
They ferried me to the Saigon Military Hospital. A total example of controlled chaos. I got stitched up and confined to a bed. Five days later they send me in an ambulance to Tan Son Nhut airport with a directive to stay off the leg for a month. Too bad, they said, it would eat up my 30 day leave.
A lithe and healthy looking wahini (beautiful young girl) took Frank in had and towed him off “somewhere more private” where she could express her gratitude for Frank’s willingness to help advance time honored traditions -like the hula.
I hustled up on my one leg and started to try to hula myself. “Mini winnie foo fah and a waikiki, the chucks chucks islands all call to me…” I sang, barely able to stay erect. I piece of thrown lettuce coated in mayonaise stuck to my short and a pickle slice hit me in the cheek.
A couple of good looking ladies handing out leis and kisses glared at me. “Making fun of our traditions isn’t very nice!” said one. They all turned up their noses and went off to spread their message of love and welcome elsewhere.
“But… Hey, wait!” I said, confused. But they ignored me. I left my lunch uneaten on the table. Sighing, I hobbled the two blocks to where Waikiki beach was, and hopefully a new opportunity make some friends of the fairer sex.
Sitting around and hoping to exploit the empathy of a vacationing woman, I only managed to attract some stares and little kids pointing at my cast. I didn’t catch a lady, but I sure caught myself a nasty sunburn.