The sun was blazing and we now had only to wait for the sound of the choppers.  They were reliable and kept their appointments.  Only when we were under fire would they break their date, which usually meant another night in the paddies instead of in our cots, behind the thick walls of the 70 year old French Fort. We had only moved in here about a month ago from our first home, the village of Rach Kien. Our lineup for pickup was almost automatic- each group 2 to 3 on each side, about 15 yards between them and about 20 yards between groups.  We didnít have to pop a smoke grenade to mark the landing area like we did in the field since the pilots knew the area.  The different color smoke to mark LZs  (Landing Zone) became a problem in the field also.  We knew the other side was listening to our radio frequencies, probably using our captured radios, so sometimes when you radioed the pilot with the color smoke information, you would see the same colored smoke appear at some distance as they tried to lure the choppers into a trap.  So we coded the information, relaying yellow to the pilot when we meant red and we would pop the red smoke only to see yellow smoke in the distance.

   Our squad was small and undermanned, just like the whole Platoon and Company was.  Sgt. Gregory was squad leader.  He was friendly and easy-going and never had a bad word to say about anyone--- at least not without ample cause.  He was not a career man and it just wasnít in his nature.  But like many, he could do the job well when called on.  He was the kind of guy you could imagine being your best friend in high school.

   Barron was from the rural South.  He talked slow in a way which made it seem there were no separations between the words. It seemed that he hadnít been exposed to the complications of the urban culture and his questions as well as answers were uncomplicated. Where many of us still tried to avoid the muck by crossing a stream, balancing on a fallen tree or using a rudimentary bridge, Barron would just take the low road and transverse the muck directly.  Itís not that he liked getting wet and muddy, itís just that he had lost his balance, slipped or fallen so many times, he figured why go through all the extra effort and end up in the drink anyway. You had to admire him for that self-realization.  It saved him from the stress of the balancing acts we went through to avoid what for him was the inevitable.

NEXT