Our Last Night in Xuan Loc
By William Howard, Army
Writing Type: Prose
By William Paul Howard
The sun disappeared behind us hours ago. To the east, the dome-like shape of Chua Chan Mountain is a black silhouette against the star-filled sky. It is impossible to see any detail on its slopes even when it is temporarily illuminated by the fireballs of napalm bombs.
To the south, red tracers rain on their target from an C-47 gunship nicknamed “Puff” after the dragon in a Peter, Paul and Mary song. It breathes fire that puts a bullet in every square inch of its target area.
Fred and I lie atop a bunker constructed of rough sandbags stacked around a foxhole covered with a piece of steel plate for the roof. The short walls of tan sand bags along the front and sides are tinted red by the dirt used to fill them. A detonator for a claymore mine sits on the wall next to the M-60 where I can grab it without having to see it. The mine itself is on the other side of a low berm about 30 yards in front of us. It is too dark to see beyond the berm where there is a field of amber grain that resembles a western Kansas wheat field. Beyond that is a forest that is green all the way to the mountain during the day.
The company is moving back to Bearcat near Saigon. It is time for soldiers to rotate home; we don't have enough people to drive all the trucks in one convoy. Drivers took half of our trucks today and will return tomorrow to move the remaining trucks. For tonight, there are just six of us.
Fred and I have practiced reloading the M-60 so that we can do it in the dark, if needed. We agree to take turns napping and settle in for a quiet night. We haven’t had any activity close to us for a month.
Suddenly, the farmer's field explodes in bursts of gunfire with red tracer rounds from the left and green tracers from the right. The firing is so constant that the crops in the field are lit like the neon lights of a carnival midway by the glow of the rounds.
I do not know if any of our side are trying to maneuver. I decide I will only shoot if the green tracers turn toward us.
The firing continues for about five minutes, though it seems longer. When it suddenly stops, darkness and silence return.
Napalm still falls on the mountain.
Puff still rains death down the valley.
Our perimeter is quiet, but none of us will sleep tonight.