Fire support base Schroeder, early March, ’68, the big TET Offensive is starting to wind-down leaving a country ripped, torn asunder; thousands dead. A big empty wooden cable spool on it’s side and four guys seated around it on piled wooden ammo boxes-the thin boards are so new the southeast Texas pine sap still oozes on some. Somebody’s old tape deck plays California Dreamin’ by The Mamas & The Papas. It’s hot as hell at 5 PM in the middle of the dry season. A breeze is lifting a fine dust over everything giving the very air a bright yellow hue.
The guys sip hot Australian beers over crusty rusted rims as the music blasts over the mud caked rice paddies. Not six paces away sit two 105mm howitzers cleaned, ranged and ready to fire. Between the two field pieces a file of Infantry slowly walks towards the paddies and the distant tree line. Each man bristles with gear, weapons and mounds of ammo.
“Watch your asses,” calls one of the artillery gunners.
“You just watch where you shoot them damn things,” says a grunt hooking a thumb at the silent guns.
Darkness will drift over the base in a couple of hours. Fire missions will start to filter in over the radio and these lazy draftees will begin to earn their pay. Fire support for Infantry engaged in fire fights; some Forward Observer spots Charlie moving; and simple Harassment and Interdiction orders set the howitzers into action.
Then the inevitable Chicom mortars start falling, walking over and around, criss-crossing the fire base. Counter battery fire – you shoot at them & they shoot back. Set the fuses, hump the rounds, slam the breech, pull the lanyard…it all ends about daylight when both sides melt into the jungle. Unless it’s a big operation and it just goes on & on & on. Each action bullies one’s soul deeper into the drifting cordite smoke until, at long last, we are all lost in the wind.
War never changes very much….but, for the next couple of hours we will all be California Dreamin’….