eyes. He was 29 but looked much older. Three tours in
'Nam had aged him.
He got up and started to stroll off, head down, talking into the handset,
radioman trotting behind.
We walked over a dugout dirt bank and came upon a Vietnamese lieutenant
kneeling, talking into his own radio. He was getting positions from the
Vietnamese commanders. Nauman explained he was Lt. Linh, commander of the
The lieutenant wore his helmet cocked back, chinstraps dangling on either
side of his chubby cheeks. He looked like a younger version of Prince
Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia. Nauman went over and knelt beside him for a
moment, checking to see if they were getting the same information over the
radio. Then he nodded and walked away.
I stayed and shot some pictures of Linh.
A three-man, 60mm mortar crew hustled around under Linh's direction,
trying to keep its tube out from under the trees. They fired handheld, the
skinny mortar-man moving his knee-high olive-drab pipe proudly and with
great precision. When he was satisfied, they'd drop two or three rounds
down the tube, then shift again.
After watching for a few minutes, I wandered off to find Nauman.
He stood on the edge of the LZ looking out across it. There was a huge
B-52 bomb crater to our right front and another one to the left. About 30
meters away, sat a UHID (a Huey helicopter).
Capt. Ken Nauman calls in airstrike from bomb crater.
I nodded toward it. "What's that doing there?"
He shrugged. "Shot down," he said.
No bullet holes were visible, but it sat still and empty. It looked dead.
"Everybody get out all right?"
He nodded. "Uh huh."
"When's the next lift coming in?"
He pushed his hat back on his head and said, "It's overdue now. I hope to
hell it gets here soon. We're just sitting here waiting for Charles to get
his stuff together. We're not making any money," he said, jerking his head
toward the trees. "Let's go get in the shade."
Nauman, the radioman and I walked off together, automatically keeping five
yards between us.
We crashed under the trees. Everything was quiet. The mortarmen were
flaked out around their tube, eating rice and fish. I opened my pack and
got out a long-range-patrol ration. Chili.
"Hey, Ken," I said, waving the bag, "you want half of this? I can't eat it
He lay under a tree, head on his pack, hat over his eyes, smoking a
cigarette. "No thanks, Babe," he said, not moving. "Not hungry."
I finished the chili, lay down, lit a cigarette and mashed my own hat down
over my nose. Bright sunlight turned all the leaves around us to pale
Lt. Linh sat cross-legged under a tree, one arm propped up on his radio,
eating sausage. He held out a slice to me, smiling.
"Da Khong, cam on Chung 'Uy (no, thanks, major)," I said.
He ate that slice and cut himself another. Breezes blew the tree limbs and
shivered their translucent leaves. We sucked down cigarette smoke and the
day grew hotter.
We waited. The sun burned through the trees. I took off my hat to wipe the
sweat from my forehead, and the inside of my eyelids turned red.
"Hey!" Nauman said.
I pushed my hat back a little and looked at his inert form. "Huh, what?"
"How'd you like to have one of those cold CokesŪ we were drinking before
I smiled maliciously. "How'd you like to have a big orange drink in a tall
waxed-paper cup, full of ice you could crunch on for half an hour after
you finished it?"
"Why you rotten son of a bitch," he muttered, without moving.
I glanced at my watch. "We've been here almost four hours now," I said.
"The longer we wait, the more trouble we're going to be in when we move."
Nauman stirred uneasily. "What I'm afraid of is that we'll get moving late
and get in a fire fight about 6:30, just when we don't want it."
I pushed my hat lower, dimly hearing sounds in the distance.
"Incoming!" Nauman said.
Without consciously moving I found
myself face first in the dirt, M16 in the firing position.
Four B-40 rockets exploded out on the LZ and there was the sound of four
more being fired.
When Nauman saw they didn't have the range on us, he sat back up and got
on the radio, talking intently into the micro-phone. "Falcon, this is
Crusade Zero-six, Zero-six. Over. Falcon ... Roger, Falcon Two-two ... Oh!
Hi, John. Good to have you out. What've you got? Over."
A small Air Force 02B aircraft buzzed around, front and rear propellers
outlined against the sky. It was Falcon, the Delta Forward Air Controller.
Nauman looked up and said, "Keep low. We're gonna have some F-105s here in
a minute." He looked at Linh. "Chung 'Uy, you get adjustments
from the companies over your radio and feed them to me. I'll keep adjusting the
aircraft." Then back into the microphone, "Hey, John! You see the high
ground about a hundred meters north of the LZ? Put your marking round in
Calling In Air
Two flights of F-105s appeared over the horizon. They roared in low over
the LZ and swung, clean, sweptback and beautiful, into the sky. The
little FAC dropped over in a tight 180 and buzzed the hill Nauman had
Crack-whoosh-WHOMP! went the marking round, leaving a plume of white smoke
hanging over the target.
"Very good!" Nauman said. "Bring your first round in right there."
It was very quiet after the marking round. The B-40s quit falling.
The fighters came around and the first one came in on the target.
"Hit it!" Nauman said and fell to earth.
I sat up and watched. They hit. The en-tire landscape jumped, and I picked
a jagged piece of hot steel off my lap. After that I decided to do what
the man said.
"That was pretty good, John," Nau-man said. "Put 'em in on that ridge line
The jets peeled off one after the other and came in. The arc of the
falling high-drag bombs was slow. We hit the ground a fraction of a second
before they struck. Nauman put in napalm too. We didn't need to crouch
when the huge orange and black blossoms ballooned across the horizon.
After the aircraft dumped their loads and headed for home it was quiet
again. The FAC kept buzzing around, and Charles left us alone.
A few minutes later, we heard the whop-whop-whop of returning helicop-ters.
I cradled the rifle under my arm and got out my camera, walking down to
the edge of the LZ.