Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | July 31, 2011

Sample from “Where There Were No Innocents”

Mack Brinson has been working with the troops at MACV-SOG Forward Operations Base 2 in Kontum, Vietnam. He’s on the way back to Saigon, his home base. He runs into a problem getting on the first available flight.
*****
I’d packed most of my gear in a duffel bag the night before, so all I had to do was shave, pay my respects to the camp commander and get a Jeep to take me to the airfield to catch a ride to Saigon. Since it was only 0730, I figured to be there by mid-afternoon and could get a head start on writing my after-action report for the boss. It was Friday, and if I was really lucky, I might be able to finagle Saturday afternoon and Sunday off. I had some special ideas about the weekend—and they involved a lady.
Getting around the country was pretty easy for people assigned to SOG. We all had a set of “Blanket Travel Orders,” good anywhere in Southeast Asia. The orders informed the commander of any aircraft we chose that we had priority over any passenger up to full colonels. We’d show the orders and our SOG I.D. to the pilot, or terminal boss, bump an unfortunate passenger and be on our way.
The SOG I.D. card was a piece of work. It had only a picture of the bearer, in civilian clothes. Beneath the picture was a number beneath for identification. No name. It informed those who inspected it, that the person in the picture was not to be detained for any reason. It further stated—in three languages: English, Vietnamese and French—that the bearer was authorized to carry any weapon he chose. The I.D. card was fondly called the “get out of jail free” card. I’m sure it was used for that purpose more than once.
Chance knocked on the hooch door and came in.
“How’s it hangin’ Đại uý (Vietnamese for captain)? I figured you’d need a ride to the airfield and we could chitchat until you leave. Before we head out, though, Bourbon Bill wants to see you in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center). I’ll just hang around and keep my hands on the Jeep until you’re through. Someone else might think they need it otherwise,” he said.
“Sounds good, thanks. I was gonna go by and make a courtesy call anyway. It shouldn’t take long.”
After showing my credentials to the guard, I entered the TOC and found Grimm listening in as an operations sergeant made radio contact with a team in Laos. He was partly turned away from me as I came in, absorbed in listening to the radio report.
Grimm was a tall man, more than six feet tall. He had only a small, brownish horseshoe of hair around the sides. He was slender in a way that emphasized the sinews in his arms. I’d finally played a version of volleyball he called Combat Rules with him on the other side of the net and could attest to his quick, leathery toughness. By reputation, in the woods he was an efficient and lethal soldier.
Fortunately, the radio contact was a normal SITREP (situation report) and required no action. As soon as the team had signed off, Grimm turned to me.
“Brinson. Good mornin’. You’ve done a helluva job training my men, from what I’ve heard. Thanks. By the way, what is your first name? Since you’re probably going to be coming back on a fairly regular basis, I don’t want to keep calling you ‘Brinson’ or Captain Brinson. Just seems a little stuffy,” he said.
“My first name’s Mack, Sir.’”
Now we were going to be on a first-name basis. He’d call me Mack and I’d call him “Sir” or “Colonel.” That’s the way things were unless the two individuals involved got much closer than just a professional relationship.
“Mack, I know they like you down there in Saigon, but if you’re ready to operate a little closer to the sound of gunfire, let me know. We don’t live a bad life here, we’re not nearly as cushy as in Saigon, but I get the feeling you’d be happier near the action.”
He watched me for a reaction, his eyes dark and inquisitive. He was judging me as much as offering a job. The chances that the big boss at SOG HQ would release me were extremely slim for a number of reasons. Grimm wanted to know more about Mack Brinson.
“Sir, I’d love it. I knew some of your men at Bragg and got to know several of the others in the past week. If you have an opening for an ops and training officer, please consider me. I’ll have to warn you, though, if I’m going to plan missions for you, I’ll have to go out on a couple of them with RTs (Recon Teams) before I’m comfortable with the task.”
It was, obviously, what he’d wanted to hear.
“Mack, I’ll send a message to Colonel Singer (the SOG commander) and ask him about the possibility of reassigning you. He’ll probably tell me to go piss up a rope, but I’ll give it a shot.”
He looked at the big clock above the bank of radios.
“You’d better get a move on, its almost 0830. All the troops who have honeys in Saigon are gonna be filling the aircraft. Keep your ass down, Mack.”
“Thank you sir,” I said.
He turned back to the radios as I left the TOC.
“He offer you a job?” Chance said.
His question was the first thing he said as I headed for the Jeep. He’d parked the vehicle in the shade of a tree and had a smug look on his face.
“What do you think? Or did you have something to do with it?”
I knew he wouldn’t answer and wasn’t disappointed. He barely smiled. He simply started the Jeep and drove it in his usual manner—wildly—barely avoiding the people squatting alongside the red dirt roads and scattering chickens before him. The dust plume the vehicle left behind in a trail probably half-choked them.
When we got the airfield’s operations building, it was nearly 0900. Chance told me he’d wait to make sure I got on a flight before going back to the FOB, so I left the duffel bag with him and made my way inside.
The operations building/terminal/control tower was a concrete block building surrounded by concertina wire and had air conditioning. For that, I was going to be grateful once I got inside. Even this early in the morning, the heat was stifling. The sweat on my arms had caught a coating of red dust as we drove and I was definitely going to need a shower when I got to Saigon. I wore sterile tiger-stripe fatigues, no insignia or name, and a bush hat. I also carried a Browning High Power 9mm pistol in a shoulder holster.
The Air Force guard at the entrance eyed my SOG identification card and travel orders suspiciously. He looked even more closely (enviously) at the nice pistol.
“You can go in.” He said.
He’d probably dealt with a number of the SOG people before.
Inside, I stood at the end of a line of four people who were trying to get seats on the next aircraft going to Saigon. The chalkboard said that there was a plane going out at 0930. If I could catch it, I’d be in Saigon by noon.
The three men at the front of the line were young enlisted troops in wrinkled jungle fatigues, and by their shoulder patches, were assigned to the local MACV advisory team. They probably had weekend passes and were trying to get to the big city as soon as possible. Behind them was an Army lieutenant colonel wearing sweaty khakis. He was a Quartermaster Corps officer, a supply and logistics man. The USAF sergeant at the passenger desk told the three young troops the bad news.
“There’s only one open seat on the next aircraft, a Caribou, departing at 0930, so all but one of you will have to wait until 1330 when we’ll have a C-123 going to Tan Son Nhut.”
“That’s okay, Sergeant.” The colonel interrupted, “I’m going to take that seat anyway. I need to get to Saigon soonest. These troops can wait here for the next flight. They’ll probably enjoy it more, anyway. They’ll be together.”
He gave the troops a smug glance and moved ahead of them to the sergeant’s desk.
The Air Force NCO flushed but made no comment as he examined the colonel’s I.D. and travel orders. I’d seen enough, and was feeling a bit feisty.
“Excuse me Sergeant.”
I stepped forward to stand beside the officer.
“I think that these orders will give me that seat. I have urgent business in Saigon. The sooner I’m there, the better. Sorry Colonel.”
The man nearly exploded. He was a short, heavy man with a red porcine face and greased-down brown hair. As I put my SOG I.D. and blanket travel orders on the desk, he snatched them up before the sergeant could read them and began sputtering.
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
His double chins quivered and sweat ran down his too-long sideburns.
“I’m a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and I’m not going to be bumped by some little spook with phony-baloney papers! You get your ass back in line!” he said.
The Air Force officer on duty, a major, came from behind his desk and asked for my credentials. The colonel reluctantly gave them up. When the major studied them—obviously having seen such documents before—he looked up at the furious officer.
“Sir, these papers are in order and are signed under the authority of the Commanding General of MACV. Sorry, but you’ll have to wait. There are plenty of seats on the flight that departs at 1330,” he said.
He turned his back on the colonel and handed the documents to the Desk Sergeant for processing. He didn’t smile when he glanced at me but I think there was a twitch at the corner of his mouth.
The fat officer wasn’t through. He grabbed my shoulder to turn me toward him. It was only because of many, many hours of discipline under the tutelage of my honored karate sensei that I didn’t deck him on the spot. He was still close to yelling.
“You little shit! I’ll remember you! By your haircut you’re probably some Army lieutenant or captain with one of them snake-eater outfits. I’ll see you one day when you’re in uniform back in the States and I’ll have your ass.”
Spittle was flying and dribbling down his chin. I stepped back a bit to avoid the shower and did my best to present a calm, professional face.
“Colonel, I’m sorry to inconvenience you. I hope you have a good flight later today.”
I nodded and turned my back to him. I could hear him stomping to the door and everyone heard the door slam as he left the building.
The sergeant processed the information and booked me for the flight with hardly a smirk. The three young troops were openly delighted.
When I returned to the Jeep, Chance was sitting there talking to some Vietnamese kids, drinking an orange So Be soft drink.
“ Who stuck a thorn in that fat little colonel’s butt? You? Sir, am I to assume that my Đại uý bumped him off the flight?”
He gave me an evil little grin and lifted the soft drink bottle in a toast.
No answer necessary. I bought him another soft drink and one for myself. The wait was short. When the flight was called for boarding, I waved to Chance and, hoisting my duffel, walked up the ramp. Inside the Caribou, a twin-engined STOL (short takeoff and landing) aircraft, the accommodations were Spartan, but I settled into the pushdown nylon-webbing seat and after the noisy, dusty takeoff, relaxed in the cooler air and actually slept most of the way to Saigon.

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Responses

  1. Hmmmm,Hmmmm, Good!!!. All the items and characters for a good spec opns novel: the GOJF Card and the use of” Dai uy” cinches it for me. I havent read good material like that since I finished W E B Griffin’s “Brotherhood of War” like your style and all the minute details that flesh out a good character and setting. Throw in a good plot and I’ll follow you anywhere…I will find this and read it……


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