War Stories

Laughing to keep from Crying

by Wiley "Tiny" Dodd

It was summer of 69 halfway thru my tour. I had been thru 3 months of heavy combat in the spring. I had been, and had seen men pushed to what I thought was the limit of endurance and sanity by combat. Awake for days at a time, in combat more days than not. We were as a unit totally exhausted a couple of different times. The look was there in our eyes the stare was there. However our battle with the elements would prove the equal or worse than combat.

It was now the height of the monsoon's in the Central Highlands. We had been in the rain for over a month. It was now raining almost constantly. It would stop right after daybreak for about an hour and then start up again and rain all the way till the next morning. If you looked up the sky was always moving it would make you feel dizzy. Twice our resupply had been delayed a day, due to the rain. We would go 24 hours and then some with no food. The second time I had been smart enough to save a couple cans of cheese and crackers and fruit. But then I shared them with the other 5 guys in my squad. Several of us had immersion foot. Our hands and faces from being exposed were cracked and sore. They looked like your fingertips look in hot dish water.

Just prior to the monsoon I had been in the hospital for 2 weeks with the famous "fever of unknown orgin" I still wasn't up to full strength and felt weak most of the time. One day we humped down into valley in tall elephant grass. It was late afternoon and I didn't think it was a good idea to go late in the day, as there was no cover and we were exposed totally to the elements. Well we were trapped there and had to stay there that night. We set up in a wide square. Each squad of five were in the center of there line in the square. I assigned guard and we rolled ourselves up in our ponchos and tried to rest. It poured all night it never stopped. It was furious the rain beating off my poncho, It was deafening to me. I was passed the watch for my guard last and it was starting to get light. Tim Marick a slow talking farm boy from Nebraska gave it to me. I sat up and positioned the poncho as a hood as it was still raining but not as hard. I was starting to try and make myself a cup of coffee. Tim came over and sat down next to me. I looked over at him and he was looking at me. He said Tiny you really look like shit. I said so do you and started to laugh he did to. We both laughed until we were out of breath. I knew then what my father meant when he used to say I was laughing to keep from crying.