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A Phoenix Fiction Writer Rising From The Ashes of Nonfiction

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The  Moon  Monster 
by Michael T. Martin



Imperial throne room in nearby Hue

I was the senior sergeant in the barracks at Phu Bai. Our unit had the upper floor of a wooden two-story open-slat building. There was a wooden staircase from the ground to our living quarters. The barracks had 60 cycle 110 volt AC power. Shower and bathroom facilities were in a building across the street. But by the time I arrived, the conditions had deteriorated.

When I say deteriorated, there were things like the AC power on one side of the barracks had gone out, so people had to have extension cords to run fans on that side. Did I mention that Vietnam was hot in the summer? We needed large fans blowing on us to get to sleep.

Occasional rocket and mortar attacks forced everyone to quickly evacuate the barracks by running down the wooden staircase. Unfortunately, the staircase railing had collapsed. With no railing, people hurriedly running out of the barracks had to turn sharply left without any handhold to go down to the ground, risking a fall.

One of the things I did when I arrived was to contact the base facilities management to arrange to have the AC power and missing railing fixed. Right away I gained some cred among the troops I was newly in charge of. There were numerous other problems I had to deal with because the Staff NCOs and the officer in charge were basically incompetent. It happens. In fact it happened enough in Vietnam that they had a common term, "fragging," for when enlisted troops used a fragmentation grenade on their incompetent officers.

I wasn't the sole senior sergeant because the head of our generator maintenance section had exactly the same seniority as a sergeant that I did, to the day, and we both reported to Phu Bai on the same day. He had a Polish name so everyone called him "Skee." Having exactly the same status meant neither of us could tell the other what to do.

My position as radar technician gave me a little edge in status. GCA radars are considered crucial to an airbase. If a GCA radar becomes nonfunctional for more than an hour, a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) has to be sent out to advise everyone of that. Thus it was important that my radar operated continuously, and it didn't operate at all without generators providing power. So I got along well with Skee.

He came to me one day not long after we arrived. Skee said that the enlisted men in the unit had hidden a grenade in the sand-bag bunker we were to use in the case of a rocket or mortar attack. There were two bunkers, one for enlisted and one for officers. The situation between the officers and the enlisted men deteriorated so far that the enlisted planned to throw the live grenade into the officers' bunker during the next attack.

Skee defused that situation by removing the grenade but we both realized that we had some work to do with improving the morale among the troops. However, because we took charge and did make improvements, our status among the troops rode fairly high. Plus when I was certified with nearly perfect scores and had zero NOTAMs, my credibility got a boost.

Skee was more blue collar than I, being primarily a mechanic. I had some college and being a radar technician gave me more intellectual credibility. I also enjoyed debating over nearly any topic, so I gained a reputation as a knowledgeable person. Perhaps even as an authority, even in discussions about space travel.

The historic first landing on the moon by Apollo 11 occurred while I was at Phu Bai. Since most of the details about the Apollo mission were somewhat technical my debating with anyone in Phu Bai was kind of pointless. There was no resource to resolve disputes, such as whether there was a solar wind, so I decided to play stupid.

The Apollo 11 mission was big news worldwide. We knew about the upcoming launch, then the danger of the launch, then the suspense of the space trip to the moon over three days. So the mission somewhat dominated the background of our work at Phu Bai. People talked about it and about space and about the moon, for days.

After the Apollo launch, during the run up to the moon landing, I interrupted nearly any conversation regarding the Apollo mission by proclaiming that the "Moon Monster" was going to eat them. As the Apollo spaceship headed toward the moon, whenever the topic came up, I swore that when they landed on the moon the Moon Monster would gobble them up. After a while, anytime anyone mentioned the Apollo mission I would simply mumble "the Moon Monster's gonna get 'em."

On the appointed hour of the moon landing, everyone who could, gathered around a black and white TV we set up for the viewing. There wasn't really any video during the descent, just the radio audio and that was garbled. The cryptic language used by the space controllers was similar to the language used by our air traffic controllers so it created a special bond. With about 30 people gathered around a 19 inch television, I continued declaring in the background behind them "the Moon Monster's gonna get 'em."

Eagle landed and there suddenly was video feed from the moon. The audio still dominated since the video was poor. We heard the "One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" and then the continuing conversation after the second astronaut stepped on the moon. All the while I continued asserting "the Moon Monster's gonna get 'em."

There was some obvious irritation among the people watching the landing over my stupid proclamations, but since I was the senior sergeant, they couldn't say much, and I was considered somewhat of an authority on technical issues. But their irritation was clear. Until one of the astronauts exclaimed "Look, over there."

I immediately erupted "It's the Moon Monster!"

The other astronaut said "What?"

I fairly shrieked "It's the Moon Monster!" The entire crowd tensed. For that one sterling moment they thought, maybe there was a Moon Monster.

The first astronaut replied "There, it's a purple rock. I told you we'd see a purple rock."

Then the crowd turned on me with glares. I laughed. I had them.

 

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