Written by Pete Steciow
As the dew burned off at Mole City, our remote firebase, the whirling of a Chinook closes in on our location. I pull the pin for purple smoke and the hissing sound of the smoke erupts from the canister. The pilot verifies the smoke color.
The dual-rotor craft approaches with a sling of goodies. Everything for Mole City is delivered by Chinooks. The exception is the extremely rare hot meal which we may get at Thanksgiving or Christmas and that is only if we are lucky.
As the Chinook slowly descends from the sky and hovers in place, its precious cargo touches the ground and the webbing falls away. This is a delivery of large, heavy wood crates. These crates need to be unloaded, unpacked and delivered to the fire base. This is accomplished by means of the back-breaking work of soldiers like me.
We form a human bridge and methodically we hoist the 105mm artillery shells and the rest of the ammunition to the next man and so on until they reach their final destination, the ammo dump. You hope your place in this human bridge is not down wind of the diesel fuel burn pit. But suddenly, you inhale another whiff of the drifting black smoke that makes you want to puke.
When the initial delivery is cleared, in comes another Chinook with a small bladder of drinking water and C-Rations. There is no mess hall cooking at this rough and dirty outpost. After each five-gallon container is filled with water and the bladder is emptied, the containers along with C-Rations are carried to Mole City.
Wait! Did someone forget the dirty, drab green bag on the ground? Mail!
A voice yells out, “Ain’t no use in go- in’ home, Jo-dy got yo’ gal an’ gone.” Sure, this soldier got some dirty looks, but we all knew there was some truth in what he said. The Dear John letters appear more frequently in that mail bag than anyone would like.
After the ammo is neatly stacked and the water has been delivered to the squad areas, those not pulling guard duty quickly assemble for mail call. Pushing and shoving, soldiers surge forward anxious to hear their name as the names on the list are called. Anything handed to you meant a connection to home.
As my name is called out along with some derogatory comment, I wonder about the number of sarcastic or mean-spirited comments that are hurled during mail call. Even rank did not seem to make you immune from the commentary. I move quickly through the crowd to pick up my box and slither silently back to the dirt bunker I call home.
Knowing I was going to have to share the box’s contents with my men, I wanted to open the box alone and savor this little piece of home. I picture my Mom and my sister making and carefully packing the oatmeal raisin and peanut butter cookies, along with the Jiffy Pop popcorn, the hard candy, and the pictures and letters from much-missed family.
After reading the letters, I heard loud whooping and hollering outside my bunker. It sounded like a pack of hyaenas waiting to pounce on their prey. There was still some time before the nickel bags of potent Vietnamese pot would open, so I decided it would be safer to pop the Jiffy Pop with C-4 now, rather than later.
As I prepared what I hoped was a safe amount of the C-4 to pop the corn and not blow the place up, I thought again of my mother. I am sure she expected this box of treats to last me for a whole week or more. Realistically, it was going to be gone in less than fifteen minutes.
I guess we had all become a pack of wild, screeching animals. War can dehumanize a man. But thousands of miles away, my mother decided to tame the wild beasts with a box of cookies, popcorn and candy. She knew what me and my men needed in that far away dirt hole named Mole City. Mom always said she had a sixth sense when it came to knowing what people needed.
Thanks Mom, we love you!