This is a story about the fear that I, an Air Force radar repairman with minimal combat training, felt when I experienced my first enemy attack and realized that I really could be killed, and my deep relief when it didn’t happen and I emerged unscathed when it was over.
The Alarm! We’re under attack! Charlie is here! I grab my rifle and snatch my pack from its place on the wall. Breathing fast, I run quickly to my position behind the Commo bunker. Crouched under the sandbags, I load the machine gun with hurrying, anxious fingers, meanwhile trying to peer through the dark opening into the featureless blackness beyond the bunker. There had been a flurry of small arms fire to the right of my position, but now it is quiet.
There is nothing to see. Where are they? How far away are they? How close are they? It is so damned dark! There is nothing to see, nothing to see. But I know they are out there, quiet, invisible, menacing. I keep scanning the darkness. I should have stayed back on my radar site in Montana, bored but safe. Well, I’m damned sure not bored now.
Man, it is dark. Long forgotten childhood memories start to surface. I remember lying concealed in the basement back on Third Street in DC, playing hide and seek on a summer evening, but this is no game. These are no friendly neighborhood kids searching the night here, but an implacable enemy intent on my destruction. My heart is beating fast and heavy as I feel I can detect the menace beyond the wire. I know that there are friends all around me; there’s a guy right beside me, but I feel constricted, isolated by the sandbags. I keep straining to see. How can it be so dark? Two weeks training for this. Shit! Then someone is behind me at the bunker entrance.
Bac Si Cox, the Army Special Forces medic, is a dimly seen smile and an easy voice, asking: "How’s it going?" "Okay so far, Danny," I answer, surprised that my lowered voice sounds almost normal. "Hey, man, don’t mean nothin’…" he says, as he detects the suppressed emotion. We talk softly for a few seconds, and then he leaves as quietly as he came.
After he’s gone, I realize that my heartbeat has returned almost to normal. Reassured, I peer at the shadowy figure of the guy hunkered close beside me in the bunker and wonder why I did not draw comfort from his presence as I did with Danny. My bunker mate is a few years older than my thirty-one. Danny Cox must be nearly ten years younger than I am, but in experience, he is my grandfather. After a few more almost desultory scattered shots, it's over. It seems that Charlie really wasn’t serious in his attack this time. After having left us in peace for so long, he just wanted to remind us that he is still out there. Point taken: the night belongs to him. As far as I'm concerned, he can have it.
There is a further wait, then we’re told to hang it up. We secure the machine gun and leave the bunker. I breathe a long, long, silent sigh. My first attack is over and I am still very much alive.
©Thurman P. Woodfork 13 September 2000.