War Stories

A Shower

by Leigh Thomas

A Shower

By Leigh Thomas

We had just come in to the firebase (Challenge) from almost a month in the bush. The choppers dropped us off on the pad just before the sun dropped behind the hills on the west side of the firebase. Everyone moved down to the four-duce mortar pits and dropped their rucksacks to the ground. Mike says that the first thing he's going to do is to take a shower. There is a make shift shower stall up near the helo-pad. It's some pipes driven into the ground with a pancho wrapped around three sides of them forming a U. There is another pipe driven at an angle so that the top end of it hangs directly above the opening in the center of the U. A canvas bucket with a showerhead attached to the bottom of it hangs under the top of the pipe. You put water in the bucket, stand under it, open the showerhead and presto, you get a shower. I was just thinking about a shower myself when someone interjected that there was a rule against taking a shower at night. Well, you know us RECON guys.

Mike and I had a race to see who could get naked and into that shower first. The looser had to get the water. Well, after I filled the bucket for Mike I got to thinking about the camera I had in my rucksack. I thought a picture of Mike in the shower might be worth something down the road. By the time I got the camera Mike was already soaped up and feeling good. I didn't even have to ask him to smile. With visions of Ernie Pyle, I moved around to the open end of his make shift shower curtain and snapped the picture.

It was completely dark by then. A fact that was made absolutely clear by the blinding glare of the flash bulb as it went off. I had forgotten that the throwaway camera I had came with an automatic flash bulb. For about five seconds no one and nothing moved and the entire firebase was dead silent. Then, someone on a perimeter bunker fired their weapon. Then someone else fired, then someone else until the entire firebase was firing out into the jungle directly in front of them. Buy the time it was over there was small arms fire, machine gun fire, and mortar rounds illuminating the area outside the wire. With all the tracer rounds bouncing wildly off in all directions it was quite inspiring. I still have the picture of Mike in the shower and it is impressive, but the one that would have gotten me the Pullitzer Prize was the one I missed of him running naked down the hill from the makeshift shower stall to the four-duce mortar pits.

We were almost afraid to tell the other guys what happened because we though that the powers that be would kill us. As it turned out some of our guys had seen us and they put two and two together. Eventually they got the whole story out of us and we all had a good laugh.

Same two guys, several months later. Somewhere in the jungle near the Cambodian border. We had been out for three weeks and generally had a bad attitude toward our situation.

We were set up in a small perimeter on a small flat shelf of land that was about twenty feet above a small river. There was a hand made log dam on the river just below us and it made for a nice waterfall coming over the center of the dam. As part of our resupply we got an SP pack. It's like a drug store in a box. Among many other personal items it had soap bars in it. Mike and I decided that that waterfall and a bar of soap was just the thing to wash our bad attitudes away. We checked with the LT and told him we'd be through by the time the other guys got their supplies loaded in their ruck sacks. He said OK.

The only things we took with us to the water was a bar of soap and a weapon. In my case a CAR-15. Naked as a pair of J Birds, we gingerly made our way down the steep bank and across the slippery moss covered rocks at the edge of the water. I leaned my weapon against a tree and lathered up. At about that time all hell broke loose. Bullets were hitting all around us. The water, the rocks and the bark on the trees were all exploding at the same time. It looks cool on TV when the bullets are bouncing all around someone making the water jump. When you're naked, all that stuff, water-rocks-bark, hurts like hell. I jumped behind the tree for cover but every time I tried to reach around and grab my weapon the water-rocks-bark would explode again. Mike never thought of hiding behind the tree. He went straight up that steep bank digging with his hands as well as his feet. Squatting behind the tree, below and behind naked Mike, I had quite a view. I was too scared to think about my camera though. I thought I was going to see him torn apart by those bullets at any second. Luckily he made it up and over the bank. The other guys joined the battle and we ran the shooters off. Afterward the guys told me that Mike got on line with them and moved out smartly toward the shooters. He went through the rest of the contact with nothing on but an M-79 vest. I don't know how, but we both finished our tours under our own power. We were filthy dirty but we survived.

Leigh Thomas

RECON 2/35 69-70