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A Phoenix Fiction Writer Rising From The Ashes of Nonfiction

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AHoa  cont'd 
by Michael T. Martin



Our underground quarters at right, the perimeter bunker near left,
sandbag mini-bunkers overlooking perimeter across bottom

With the GCA operational and the radio technicians having set up the mini-tower, a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) announced that An Hoa was operational again. We set about establishing the daily routines of maintaining electronic equipment in a remote area.

The tower radios needed 60 cycle, 110 volt, power: the same as households. So we brought the wires into our living quarters to let us have a hot plate, electric lights, and even a television. On top of our underground quarters, a large wing tank from a wrecked C-130 transport plane that our predecessors had salvaged supplied water to our kitchen and a shower set up in the bunker. We didn't actually have sewage, but the water was available for our use.

One day I received a package from my grandmother that included a box of spaghetti and some cans of meat sauce. Our food came in packs of C-rations that included such delicacies as ham and lima beans. So the spaghetti was alluring. We didn't have pots and pans, but we did have our mess-kits and a coffee percolator.

I had never cooked spaghetti before. It didn't seem that difficult, however. I could use the empty coffee percolator on the hotplate to boil the water and then put the spaghetti sticks in the percolator. I didn't know that you were supposed to take a small handful of sticks because they would expand while cooking. I put in the whole package.

The spaghetti absorbed the water in the percolator and soon threatened to overflow the container. Without pots and pans or bowls to hold the growing mass of spaghetti, I improvised. Our helmets were essentially steel pots so I used mine as a bowl for the excess spaghetti. But a whole package of spaghetti needed more than one helmet. I eventually got the spaghetti cooked, but plain spaghetti is not a meal.

I emptied the percolator and then filled it with all the meat sauce to heat on the hot plate. Ta da, we had spaghetti with meat sauce, lots of it. Everybody ate spaghetti that night, all the spaghetti they wanted. We even took some out to the guy in the perimeter bunker about 20 yards behind our living quarters.

We had previously run 60 cycle power to the perimeter bunker so they could have their own hotplate, or even watch television while on duty. One night a few weeks after the spaghetti feast, that electricity may have been a contributing factor to the surprise one perimeter guard incurred one night. He was watching television when all of a sudden he noticed some movement outside. An enemy soldier who had somehow crawled through the concertina barbed wire was climbing over the perimeter fence.

The perimeter guard quickly shot the intruder, but realizing there might be others, he started firing his machine gun up and down the perimeter fence. I was inside our underground bunker with a few colleagues watching television when I heard the firing outside. We walked outside up the ramp to see what was going on.

All we could see in the dark was the cascade of sparks whenever the machine gun bullets struck the perimeter fence. Nobody else was shooting and we watched as the officer of the guard ran up screaming to the perimeter guard to stop firing. The perimeter guard ignored him.

"There's nothing out there," I heard the officer of the guard shouting just about the time the attacking enemy opened fire. The officer of the guard jumped in the defensive bunker and we retreated into ours.

I began waking up the rest of my colleagues. Our orders were to move into a wall of defensive sand-bag positions above our living quarters during an attack. We all had full combat gear, including rifles, helmets and flak jackets. We hurried out the side of our underground bunker away from the attack and made our way to sand-bag positions where our radar and tower operations were located.

However, when we reached those positions we encountered the staff NCO's who had living quarters there. The enemy attack against the perimeter bunker meant there was a furious firefight going on only about 25 yards from us. Bullets and rifle-launched grenades impacted the perimeter bunker from an unseen enemy in the dark. The exploding grenades sent bursts of white hot shrapnel flying just like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

One staff NCO in particular was in a panic. He had decided to launch a flare, but in his panic he misaligned the firing mechanism. The flare, in a foot-long tube with a cap on one end, required taking off the cap and putting it on the other end. Pounding that end on your palm would drive a firing pin inside to ignite the explosive charge that shot out the flare contents with its parachute. The flare contents were extremely hot and bright, hot enough that the rising heat would inflate the parachute and keep it aloft.

Except in this case the staff NCO had misaligned the cap and wedged the firing cap on crookedly so it wouldn't fire. The staff NCO kept pounding on the jammed cap while turning in a circle, slowly lowering the flare as he did. Soon he was inadvertently threatening to fire the flare right into our midst. This had us scurrying around to escape the muzzle until someone managed to grab the staff NCO and direct the flare upward just as the cap triggered the firing mechanism.

Our orders were to not fire our rifles and just wait in the two-man sand-bag mini-bunkers. The enemy ignored us in our overlooking positions, concentrating their fire on the perimeter bunker. I could see the embattled defensive bunker brightly lit by the parachute flares overhead, but not the enemy out in the darkness.

I told my bunker buddy that I was going to stand up to try and draw their fire and he could then see where they were in the dark. I figured that it would take a second or two for the enemy to spot me standing up, take another two or three seconds to aim and fire, so I had about 5 seconds before I was in serious danger. Therefore I stood up for about five seconds and then hurriedly squatted back down.

The enemy ignored me.

Sitting only about twenty yards from a furious fire fight, I decided to ignore orders and fire one shot into the darkness where the enemy was attacking from. It was futile but I couldn't take being attacked and not firing at least one shot at the enemy. One blind shot that I couldn't even assess its effectiveness.

My one single shot fired in the Vietnam War.

The enemy finally went away and the battle ended near midnight. The flares eventually burnt out and darkness resumed as we went back to our underground bunker. The next morning we learned that 8 dead enemy were found amidst the wire. They were gone by the time I got back to work. But I also learned that the officer in charge had called a meeting of our unit.

The OIC primarily reviewed what had occurred the night before and went over our previous instructions that in an attack we were to move to our sand-bag positions. If the enemy broke through the perimeter defenses we were to fall back across the runway into another set of sand-bag defenses.

He then reiterated we were not to fire our weapons under any circumstances. He explained that because our positions overlooked the perimeter bunker it was unnerving to them to have firing behind them during an attack. He didn't mention that I had fired my rifle, he just sternly insisted that we do not fire our rifles even if the enemy breaks through the perimeter defenses.

"Is that clear?" he asked. Nobody said anything.

"Are there any questions?" he asked. I raised my arm.

"Yes," he acknowledged.

"Sir, is it alright if we throw rocks at them?"

I escaped with a nasty scowl but we were dismissed to return to duty.

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