A Vietnamese Soldier

(1st Air Cavalry Division Headquarters)

Phuoc Vinh,  Vietnam

         Ken heard the familiar scream of a Vietcong rocket. It was coming his way. He jumped from his office chair in the Protocol Office and ran out the back door headed for the command bunker. Lt. Nguyen was standing outside, looking up. 

         Nguyen had been in Ken’s office earlier looking for a cup of coffee. He was aide to Colonel Ky, the South Vietnamese Army counterpart to Major General George Forsythe, 1st Cav Commanding General and Ken’s boss. 

         Nguyen was always asking Ken about American operations but would seldom divulge what the South Vietnamese were up to. Some had suggested he had connections with the Vietcong, playing both sides of the field.

         Ken had stopped sharing information when there was no reciprocation. Nguyen hadn’t been gone from Ken’s office more than 5 minutes. 

         “C’mon. Let’s go,” Ken shouted at Nguyen as he ran from the building. 

         He reached the cement stairs to the underground bunker, stopped and looked back. Lt. Nguyen was walking casually toward the front corner of the building. 

         Incoming rockets and mortars were exploding all around the compound. Rockets screamed through the air. Mortars came in silent. American artillery and mortars had started to respond. Flares shot up, popped open and floated to the ground beneath small parachutes, turning night into day.

         Ken ran to where Lt. Nguyen was standing out in front of the building. 

         “What the hell are you doing?”

         Lt. Nguyen smiled and just shrugged his shoulders. He was looking up into the sky and listening. 

         Lt. Nguyen had once told Ken he had joined the South Vietnamese Army when he was only 14 years old. Wounded four times, he’d received a large number of medals while serving with a Vietnamese Ranger Battalion. 

         “Those rockets are aimed at whoever is standing in the wrong place. You know? To whom it may concern?”

         “No. I not afraid of rockets and mortars. I tell where they are going. If too close, I just hit ground. If they land on me, oh well.”

         Lt. Nguyen smiled and shrugged his shoulders again. 

         A rocket came in low overhead. Ken ducked. It landed on the other side of the road, across from the two men near a pagoda looking school building. The concussion blew out windows and destroyed a play area, leaving a swing set mangled 

         Too close, Ken thought. He knew he should run to the bunker but he didn’t. He stood looking at Lt. Nguyen, feeling a small thrill at being so exposed. He had not felt that in the field when he was a platoon leader. Rockets and mortars had only brought fear. 

         Ken continued to stand with him out on the compacted dirt entry area in front of the command headquarters looking at the cloudless sky and the full moon, listening. The shelling continued for another 15 minutes. A rocket destroyed the General’s outdoor shower. Flares continued to drift down from the sky, swinging carefree in the night, casting strange shadows until the attack was over.