Radio Relay

Sam and I ambled into the clubhouse for a cold drink. My back ached and my hands were blistered from filling sandbags and stringing razor-sharp concertina wire along the outer perimeter of LZ English. We trudged past the empty pool tables and dropped our sweaty bodies onto the barstools. I pulled off my worn leather gloves and tossed them onto the counter. Greg Deperio was behind the bar, stacking boxes.

He stopped, straightened up, and cracked, “Hey! No shirts, no service!”

“Boyson, how’d you get such gravy duty?” Sam questioned. “You should be out hangin’ tin cans in the wire, while me and Stamper stay in here and shoot pool.”

“Gee I wish I could, but I gotta keep the beer on ice and the tables dusted,” Deperio laughed.

“Dog,” I said. “Gimmee a beer.”

Sam grew up in Georgia and had a laid-back, easy-going way about him. It was his fourth month with the Rangers, and though we were on different teams, we were becoming friends. We had the next two days off while Top reshuffled the teams again. Losing an experienced team member like Jim Glenn meant moving three or four men around in order to get the right mix. And losing half of Golf team meant even more changes. The challenge for Top was to spread the newer guys around evenly without weakening the existing teams, and shifting experienced men to the weaker teams to balance things out. It usually disrupted cohesiveness, but I didn’t mind Top’s latest change up–Sam was to join our team and I had plenty of confidence in him.

Our next assignment turned out to be a radio relay mission in Shenendoah–practically a vacation. The radio relay mission would give us a chance to gel as a team without the test of a firefight.

After the gunships inserted us into the grassy plains of Shenendoah, we immediately set up camp on top of the high mesa. We could see for miles over the jungle below and the radio reception was crystal clear. We secured a position in the center of the flat bluff, framing it with long, narrow logs to create a rectangular campground, approximately forty feet across. Though there was no protection or cover on the treeless plain, it was known to be secure–having little enemy activity for months. Various LRRP teams were using it successfully for radio relay missions without incident.

When darkness came, the team bedded down for the night, while I stood watch. A warm breeze stirred the field grass while I gazed at the star filled sky. Soon, like a faint whisper in my ear, I began to perceive an almost imperceptible but distinct mechanical humming sound. I listened for a moment, my ears straining to identify what I was hearing. I turned my poncho liner aside, uncovered my legs, and crawled on all fours over to Sam.

“Do you hear that?” I asked.

“Yeah. It sounds like it’s coming from the bottom of the ravine,” he whispered, nodding in the general direction. By this time, Wally, our team leader moved over and was listening with us.

“What the…?” Sam wondered aloud. The humming continued.

“Call it in Ski!” Wally ordered, “Let’s pull the perimeter in a little tighter.” The two ARVNs quickly moved the logs in, and hauled our gear closer to the center. We left the claymores where they were, and double-checked the location of our detonators. Schiro called in the noises to TOC, but they weren’t buying it. The sounds continued to drift up from the ravine.

“What kind of humming?” headquarters asked.

“Like a generator or motor. And there’s another sound too. It sort of sounds like…tank treads,” Sam said, wincing in anticipation at TOC’s reaction.

“Tank treads!” the Sergeant laughed, “I don’t think so.”

“They think I’m on drugs,” Sam whispered, annoyed, “They think we’re hearin’ things.”

And we were. Not only did we hear the humming of distant machinery, now there were rustling noises around our position.

“Hit the claymores!” Wally yelled. He grabbed his detonator, flipped the safety bar over, and squeezed down hard on the lever. “Boooom!” The first explosion was followed by four more as we detonated our claymores. “Booom! Booom! Booom! Booom!”As the blasts thundered across the mesa, the back-pressure rolled across our position in a quick shockwave of five short, powerful concussions. For a moment, the night fell quiet. Then a burst of small-arms fire crackled from the darkness, sending two criss-crossing streams of green tracer rounds through our position. There was nothing to shield us from the hostile fire, so we ran up to the perimeter and stood, unprotected, firing our M16’s on full automatic in an attempt to suppress the attack.

I was on my second twenty-round clip when the explosion hit directly in front of me. I saw the flash of light, and felt a sharp crack to my skull.

“Uuuunnh!” I grunted, as I landed on my butt, stunned from the force of the blow. With the M16 still in my grasp, I struggled to regain my bearings while tiny colored dots danced and sparkled inside my eyeballs–I felt like I’d been smacked in the forehead with a baseball bat.

Wally and Sam were throwing grenades into the darkness thirty yards beyond the blast, while John and the ARVN’s were laying down a wall of fire to our rear. I felt my forehead and hair–no more pain, just wetness. I pulled the silk camouflage handkerchief from my neck, and tied it around my forehead to stop the bleeding, then got to my feet and finished off the remaining magazine. I quickly ejected it and slapped in another.

Wally shouted “Hold it, stop firing!” We waited for the ringing in our ears to fade so we could hear. A few minutes passed–there was no enemy movement or incoming fire.

“You all right?” Sam asked.

“Yeah, I think so,” I answered.

He unhooked the radio handset and pressed it to his ear, listening to TOC’s instructions. “Wally, TOC is scrambling the choppers,” he said, looking up.

“Let me talk to ‘em.” Sam handed over the receiver, and Wally keyed the mic. “Hold off on the choppers. I think it was just a few VC, and things are quiet now. Give us half an hour, and if nothing happens we’ll stay and maintain contact with Charlie team. We’ll need a slick in the morning for Stamper–caught some shrapnel in the head. No, he’ll be OK ‘til then. Do the flyover on the way in, and let us know if you spot those tank tracks. All right, Alpha out.”

Things remained quiet for the rest of the night. “Guess they believe us now,” Sam mumbled as he drifted off to sleep.

TB Stamper

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