The war plodded on, the monsoons relentlessly attempted to wash away the continent, time away from my bed continued into the second phase of forever, and personal hygiene ceased to exist.
Rosco and I were driving back to headquarters, returning from a fire base twelve clicks from nowhere. When, we spotted a couple dozen or so new recruits huddled close against the side of a long hut waiting to sign in. Shifting, shivering, anticipating, observing, and daydreaming, they stood patient and ready to serve. You might have noticed, after the word “ready,” I left out “willing and able.” They are “tbd.” There was just enough room between the end of the roofline and the side of the building to keep their crisp and shiny uniforms dry, clean and green. Rain fell heavy and steady. Mud stuck to the soles of their new boots and on the bottoms of clean, still stiff, duffel bags, was all that was needed to be dealt with by these fresh cherries. The usual pile of sandbags stacked high around every building in Enari was missing. I had a good idea what these unsuspecting “volunteers” would be doing as soon as they signed in, if the rain let up. If the rain continued, then the sand would be waiting at 6:30 in the AM.
Glancing at each other with heads down and eyes up, Rosco and I came to the same quick and obvious conclusion. No question about it—they needed to be fucked with before the second hand met with the next minute on my watch. They were pristine—we were rancid—they deserved it.
“OK, OK, I got it. Let’s scream incoming at the loudest level that our voices could command and watch them dive into the mud,” Rosco suggested.
We quickly tabled that idea when I pulled my hand from my pocket, clutching the ace of pranks.
“Rosco, dear fellow, I do believe Cousin Doug has given us the answer to our demented dilemma,” I declared in my poorly performed aristocratic voice.
Nestled full in my hand was an old wooden chest the size of a watch box. Doug’s gift from a friend in Hollywood had arrived late in the previous week. The only thing interesting regarding the box was its ornate oversized latch. The brass had deteriorated into a moldy green, crusty assemblage. I opened the box for Rosco’s inspection. What brought his eyes to attention was a very realistically detailed, fleshy, rubber finger lying on a bed of cotton, stained with red Karo syrup. It had become my entertainment for the week, thus, why I had it with me.
After poking it a couple of times, Rosco hastily developed our one act play. We rehearsed it once and then gave each other thumbs up as we prepared for scene one.
“God, Rosco, all our time together, I’m just now finding out about your bizarre sense of humor. You had me fooled with that dry, sophisticated wit of yours,” I said of Rosco's ever emerging and complicated personality.
Once in place, Rosco put his hand inside his shirt Napoleon style and said, “You know, Haines, we are perfectly cast for the parts of two deranged soldiers who play pranks to ebb the endless boring days that permeate their existence—sooooooo, let's get those cherries.” His aristocrat impression was far superior to my feeble attempt.
I put the jeep into first gear, quickly threw it into second, and then pushed full weight on the accelerator. Shifting into third gear and turning the wheel hard we slid sideways across the soaked metal tarmac. Hitting the breaks brought us to a jerking halt just a couple yards from the line of figurative and literal green grunts. Glad my intuitive timing was dead on, or else I would be reporting to Top that I just horizontally took out eight new FNG’s. (Fucking New Guys)
Springing from the jeep—our ponchos flapping in the wind—we made our way towards the huddled mass. Rosco, while traveling at double-time speed, turned his M-16 upside down and pounded it hard on the tarmac to regurgitate the mud from the barrel. We were soaking wet and filthy dirty. Our faces were sporting a four-day growth. Droplets of rain dripped in unison from the steel lips of our helmets as I stretched out my hand to Rosco. He dug deep into the lower pocket of his fatigue pants and ceremoniously handed me the worn wooden box. Gripping the miniature coffin like a baseball, palm up, I paced back and forth in front of the line of newbies and rambling about just coming in from a firefight.
“We had six confirmed kills,” said a very animated Spc4 Creech as I waved the box at them. “You cherries need to be officially introduced to the war first hand,” he said; pun intended, I thought. He stuck out his lower lip and blew a raindrop off the end of his nose. “Ya'll are in Nam, like it or not, and you need—note, I said need—to know what it's like out there in Charlieland.”
I released my grip on the box, cradled it in the palm of my hand, reached over the top, flipped the latch open, and lifted the lid for a full inspection.
“Here's one dead gook that no longer needs this to pick his nose,” Rosco said in his best macho voice.
One guy gagged, a second begged for a closer look, and a third repeated over and over what sick sons-of-bitches we were.
These three totally different reactions made Rosco and me realize how complicated war can be. Not only do we, as a nation, have to grapple with the moral justifications of war and how we deal with them, but as individuals, we have to come to grips with our set of values, virtuous beliefs, and philosophies regarding war and how we must handle those decisions that could lead to death and destruction. Naaaaaaah, actually, we didn't think about any heavy-duty philosophical stuff at that moment because our prank was not quite finished. Philosophy can wait, pranks can’t!
I closed the creaky lid with a snap and jumped into “Be Nice,”* which must have seemed like an oxymoron to those we had just been introduced to the facts of war as we saw them. Rosco snatched the box away from me, opened the lid, removed the finger, and stuck it, thumbnail first, in his mouth like a cigar. “Welcome to Vietnam, ladies.” We spun off, spitting water and wet sand in all directions.
I think the third guy was right - we were sick sons-of-bitches, but, hey, you know—it don't mean nothin’
* The Military, as a form of boosting morale, allowed drivers to paint names or messages on the side or fronts of their vehicles. One of my favorites was the Eve of Destruction. After giving much thought to every macho phrase I could think of, I settled for two words printed in stencil on the front of my Jeep...BE NICE