Saturday, April 13, 2013

Saigon 1967 Chapter Nine: Under Attack?

That evening after dinner at my neighborhood officers’ mess I had gone home since the movie was not good. I went to the roof with my glass of ice and clear liquor. After about 20 or so minutes I was ready for a refill.

That was when the explosions started. Then there was gunfire. Then there were more explosions, then more gunfire. It sounded as if it was at the non dead-end part of the street, the part that joined the main road to Ton Son Nhut. It also sounded as if it was moving my way.

I had the feeling that I was going to need to execute the plan that I had devised for this sort of situation. It was not a good feeling.

I got into position ready to execute my plan. I had a detailed diagram of the room in my head as I sat on the toilet.

Since the door of the residence was directly opposite the very thick half wall with the suitcases and boxes piled on it, those suitcases and boxes were a central part of my plan. On the other side of that wall was the toilet and shower enclosure. The toilet itself was a convenient – the only in fact – seat upon which I could perch while events took their course, and while I waited to execute the plan.

The wall was thick enough that it probably would stop a bullet. The toilet enclosure offered a place to hide so someone storming the room would have the initial impression that it was empty. The thick wall was high enough that to reach the stuff piled on it from inside the enclosure I would have to jump like a basketball player doing a jump ball.

The plan was to get into the enclosure and listen intently to the activities going on in the street and immediately outside my residence. I had no idea how the Viet Cong would act once they got to our place and had either dispatched the QC or the QC had, as I expected they might, gone elsewhere, or might even have joined in with the attackers. If they were fast and noisy the timing of my actions would be easier to calculate. It would be just adrenaline driven desperation based on someone crashing into my place. That was scary, but it would have been pretty easy. The less obvious, and less easy, from a timing viewpoint implementation was if they took the place, and then went silently to each residence. How would I know when to act? The only thing I could think of was that if they were noisy it was going to be easy; if they were really quiet, I would have to listen for any cue, like the faintest click of the door latch.

The plan was that, once I knew they were in the room, and therefore briefly directly opposite the thick wall, I would, on the inside of the enclosure execute the basketball jump maneuver and push everything I could get off the ledge out and into the room. That was quite a lot of stuff and some of it was pretty heavy. The theory was that it would come down on the intruder in volume and force sufficient to at least cause a lot of confusion, perhaps slow him down for a moment, or maybe, with real luck, inflict minor injury. At least one of those things needed to happen to make the rest of the plan viable. The basketball tip-in was to have two components. There was the leap and push followed by hitting the floor and pouncing forward to the door of the enclosure, opening it and hurtling into the room. Then there was attacking the – hopefully – down-on-the-floor and momentarily-confused intruder, beating him senseless, taking his gun, killing him and then figuring out what to do next.

I spent the next hour listening to the ebb and flow of a battle. It never got any closer to me than when I heard the initial explosions. Until it stopped altogether it never got any farther away. I never found out what had happened.

The QC weren’t talking.

Unless you have spent an hour sitting on a toilet in Saigon waiting to try to kill someone before they killed you can’t possibly grasp the real meaning of the Vietnam experience.

The juxtaposition of murder and toilet always seemed to me to be the basis for some deeply troubled book I might write someday. I don’t feel that this one is it. Maybe later.

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