1:45 AM

Thomas Avery White

 “It’s 1:45 AM, someone hollers, “ White, shift starts in 15!”​​

I stumble out of bed, dressing in my jungle fatigues as I walk the 50 yards, through almost solid feeling humid air, to the FDC (fire direction center) building. 

 Inside 10 guys are packed like sardines, radios are blaring from 6 different fire bases, calling for artillery illumination, or high explosive rounds up to 40 + miles to our west.

  To go from groggy to full hyper-alertness was a skill that took only weeks to a acquire, but even NOW a wrong phone call in the middle of the night will keep me “wired” for hours.

For about a month I fought to stay awake between these intense fire-missions, but soon sleep deprivation cause me to join the others guys in falling into a deep, dreaming “REM” sleep. I often was awakened by a desperate call for artillery, shocked that I was NOT back home,  but then having to quickly and accurately compute data to radio to the cannons, praying it didn’t hit the good guys.

 Chu Lai, had a Vietcong infested mountain range just a few miles to the west. They were constantly raining Soviet 122 mm rockets down on us, or sending “sappers” in from the ocean to the east, crawling up the very same beach that I would be walking into the ocean to surf the next day.

  It was 1971, and although a hot war was still going on in Vietnam, Walter Cronkite had proclaimed the war “unwinnable” after the TET offense in 1968 (which actually was a total defeat for the Vietcong) , and the public had turned against the war, and committed the unpardonable sin of blaming the common soldier. 

 It became clear that the politicians were no longer trying to actually defeat the communists (if they ever were), but merely contain them until America could make a face saving exit from the whole mess!

 The result was no soldier wanted to be the last man killed in “the NAM”. So, constantly counting down one’s days to DEROS (departure) occupied minds far more than maintaining the camaraderie that was shown in all those WWII movies.
My buddies out in the field said team work was still good in “Indian -Country” (where ever they found “Charlie” or actual NVA troops), but it was long gone in the hot, cramped, loud FDC where I endure my 12 hour shift.

 The hostility of soldier to soldier had gotten so bad that I asked to be sent out into the jungle, fearing the rage within me about to bubble over.

 Of course, my Major denied my request, saying the Army had spent a full year training me to accurately shoot artillery, so I was stuck!

 If lucky, after 12 hours of madness, I could walk through an opening in the barbed wire and paddle out beyond the breakers, and if no waves, at least pray and regain at least partial sanity.

 However, too  soon it was supper time, and as early to bed as the noise level from the gamblers, drinkers, and stoners in the “HOOCHES” near me would allow.
  It only seemed like minutes later until: “White, shift starts in 15.”

  Things had gotten go so bad among the troops, that the only weapon I was allowed to have was a small pocket knife that Gary had given me the Christmas before I left for Vietnam.If we were attacked by ground forces. I would have to take my weapons card to the armory and check-out my personal M-16, like a library book. 

 I am grateful to have made it home, and sorrowful for those who didn’t.

  Charles McMahon (May 10, 1953 – April 29, 1975) and Darwin Lee Judge (February 16, 1956 – April 29, 1975) were the last two United States servicemen killed in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The two men, both U.S. Marines, were killed in a rocket attack one day before the Fall of Saigon.

Jn 15:13 Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

 Thomas Avery White

Thomas Avery White
Thomas Avery White
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