Bridge, Qui Nhon

We'd been warned that the Vietcong had a thing for bridges.  They liked to mess with our supply routes.  So responding to enemy ambushes of bridges like this one became a near nightly routine for us.  Paddies down low on either side, shrubbery, hillsides – plenty of places for VC to hide and attack from...

"Bridge Nine's hit!  Grab your gear!  Move! Move! Move!"

I jumped from my cot, rubbing my eyes.  The lights were on and Elmgreen was screaming through the tent.

I yanked on clammy fatigues and boots.  Gabbed my helmet, rifle, and flak jacket and hurried into the drizzle with the rest.  Three Squad piled into a three-quarter-ton truck and hurtled through the misty blackness to what was left of the bridge.

We were learning that the nights belonged to the Cong.

The rubble smoldered, orange in the wet.  Smoke stung my eyes and burned my nose.  I thought of Wash.  He'd told us Charlie loved the bridges.

"Move out and drop!" Elmgreen yelled.  "Go! Go! Go!"

We crouched in the paddies, sunk to our waists in the stinking mud, guns out of the water.  Everything was wet, everything was black.  Suddenly we heard popping noises.  I could see muzzle flashes in the dark, on the far side of where the bridge used to be.  We all dove into the slime and my heart felt like it was thumping all over my chest.

"Open fire!  Open goddamn fire!" Elmgreen screamed.

M14s erupted around me, their deafening chatter rattling my skull...

Rock 'N' Roll Soldier: A Memoir by Dean Ellis Kohler with Susan VanHecke, foreword by Graham Nash  •  © 2024