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Unlucky Moon: Recollections of a Rifleman

Bunker 13

"We'll be back at Betty by night."

Sandbag Bunker at LZ Betty.It's still night, but daybreak is close. I'm asleep in my bunker, Bunker 13, a hulking mass of sandbags near LZ Betty’s outer perimeter wire. It's pitch black inside. Dank. Condensation covers the walls. I’ve been asleep in my bunk for nearly two hours, since coming off watch. Suddenly, a muffled voice wakes me.

I blink, cock an ear and listen to the night. Someone is outside the bunker talking to Morgan, the sentry on the bunker's roof. The sandbag walls muffle the voice, but I recognize that black southern accent. It is the voice of Sgt. Pulley my squad leader.  

I hear a jeep's engine idling. I figure Pulley has driven over from HQ with our orders for the day. In the distance, coming from the direction of Phan Thiet, the province capitol, I can hear the faint but familiar crackle of automatic gunfire.

I check my luminous watch. It's five-thirty in the morning. Same time they woke us yesterday and the day before that. Damn! The second platoon must be going out again. Why else would Pulley be here. 

Propping myself up on my elbows, I strain to hear what Pulley is telling Morgan. I can just make it out.

Shit! We’re going out. Another sweep. I was hoping the platoon would stay back in reserve today.

Pulley peels back the white parachute silk that Gunner and I had rigged over the bunker’s entrance- stoops down – and enters the dark, cramped bunker. He flicks on his flashlight and points the beam at my face. Squinting, I turn away from the light. Pulley turns his attention to Gunner who is still asleep in the lower bunk. Pulley begins rousing Gunner from his slumber, calling his name, shaking him. Gunner wakes, cursing the flashlight and the mother of whomever is holding it. Satisfied he has our attention, Pulley repeats what I heard him tell Morgan outside. 

"Platoon’s going out again. It's another in-and-out. We'll be back at Betty by night,” he says. “No rucksacks, only butt pack with one day's rations. Assemble at the chopper pad at 0700. The mess is open if you want some chow."

The bunker goes pitch black. Pulley and his flashlight have disappeared through the parachute silk like a ghost in a dream. I hear him driving off in his lights-out jeep. I know his next stop is only a short distance down Betty’s outer perimeter wire to rouse from sleep the grunts in Bunker 14.

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