War Stories

Don't Forget to Duck

by Dave Muxo

Don't Forget to Duck!

by David N. Muxo

B 1/35th 1969-70

Although we spent most of our time in the field, "humping the boonies" we called it, "search and destroy" the brass called it, there were times we would be pulled back onto a forward fire base. Not much more than a clear spot in the jungle, with tents and artillery and infantry around the outside as security, fire bases were a dangerous place. We never liked being there because the enemy gunners had them zeroed in, and because our job was guard duty.

We were grunts. We didn't mind that name. There was a certain honor in being out front all the time. We lived with fear and sweat, we bonded in our adversity. Black or white, asian or hispanic, we trusted each other with our lives. We were dirty and smelly, and didn't follow the rules any more than we had to. Our job was to survive. That didn't endear us to the commanders, or to the base camp commandoes. It's not that they weren't good guys, I guess. But they weren't like us, and they didn't understand when we stole a ham here or there.

The guys on the fire bases were more like us. Although not so smelly. They usually had three hot squares a day and visits by Donut Dollies from time to time. But they were closer to the field, and were in constant danger from mortar and recoilless rifle attack, not to mention the occasional all-out attack by the pesky NVA and VC. In short, they were all right.

Anyway, one afternoon Jerry Heiser and I were in a bunker together on a fire base, I can't remember which. For some reason we were actually inside, maybe because it was raining, or had just rained. Suddenly there was an explosion behind us, somewhere inside the compound. Incoming! We had heard that there had been mortar attacks recently, and we thought that was it.

We got busy doing our thing, ducking. Then we saw out front something we had never expected. The flash of a muzzle, then we heard the report, then the shell go over our heads and explode behind us, the hospital tent. It was our first encounter with an enemy recoilless rifle. Then another flash, another report, and another shell.

Well that went on for a while. We didn't really have time to be scared. But we did pick up the rhythm of the thing. We would see the flash, duck, hear the report and the shell go over, then come up for the next one. Flash, duck, boom, up. Flash, duck, boom, up. It was almost like a dance, and we were doing a pretty good job of keeping time to the music.

As I said, it had been raining, and the ground in front of our bunker was pure mud. For some reason Heiser and I had glasses on. Heiser wore glasses anyway, but I didn't, so I must have had sunglasses on. Anyway, somehow we got out of sync. You know, two left feet. We came up when we should have ducked, and the shell exploded right in front of us, couldn't have been more than five yards. Lucky for us the mud took the impact, and splattered onto us big time. We were covered in mud, from our chests up. Heiser took off his glasses, and I saw this mud-covered face and two white circles where his eyes were. It was the funniest thing I had seen since I had been in country! Then I took off my glasses, and Heiser dissolved into hysterics.

About that time someone got on top of our bunker with an M-60 machine gun and started firing toward the recoilless rifle position. We thought it was a silly thing to do because the enemy gun was at least 3000 yards out, and the effective range of the M-60 was about 1100 yards. Actually it worked, because the enemy stopped firing and took off. The next day we went out and found the enemy position. There were machine gun bullets lying on the ground. They had just barely made it that far, and probably hadn't hurt anyone, but it was enough.