1969 Phu Cat Re-Visited
This was the first time I loaded up, me and Duke II in a pouring down deluge.
There is no break in this storm. On the truck the men have tucked their dogs between their legs, most hidden by a poncho that offered a little cover and protection from the rain. When the wind hit 40 and 50 miles an hour, it stung big time. Again, I have never been 'IN' a storm before. Got through several hurricanes in Florida and I thought I knew something about big storms. Here it is January 30th, still weeks away from the official Monsoon weather, and now we are in the middle of a big storm off the coast that's gonna come ashore at Qui Nhon! Storms are supposed to break up when they come ashore, winds lessen, so maybe some clearing, sometime in the night.
Here's a visual for you: Nine dog teams, heads bowed, helmet is covered by the poncho, that is slick with rain. Under those poncho's the handlers are beginning to feel a chill, from the heat of the sweat that's cooling quickly. It would last all night, for as long as we stayed under these heat stroke umbrellas. I've not dismounted yet.
The truck moves effortlessly, and slower down the mud deep berm road, dropping teams off, who were left standing in ankle deep mud. It's still pouring rain as I lifted Duke II down and set him on all four paws, and all four paws disappeared into the orange clay. Normally Duke II would be in 'set position' for the change-over, but not tonight, baby!
'Now see hear Airman! I will not set my ass, my balls and my tail in this crap, got that? What are you going to do about it, write me up, article 15 me, a dog, I dare you, airman! If we've got to work in this shit lets get to some high ground, I can't stand mud on my nails, my balls or my tail.' Well thank you very much, Duke II.
I could tell Duke II was not liking this rain storm. Lightning was all around the base that night and as I finished the change-over, lightning flashed out in front of me, lighting up the hills that surrounded Phu Cat. Seeing those shadows of reflective light bouncing off those mountains, I wondered if Sir Charles was even working tonight.
I made my radio check, locked and loaded my trusty Car-15 and was ready for the next part of my assignment. That is, getting down this hill that was now slippery clay, as in Georgia Clay, and it's impossible to stay on your feet.
I didn't make it all the way down without falling, and sliding down the side of the berm. I would be giving my weapon a thorough cleaning in the morning. My uniform was wet and muddy and just plane filthy. Being in a wet, muddy uniform that would be wet and muddy when I got relieved would be an experience most people avoided.
I still had a 10 hour shift to pull and the first order of business was clearing the post.
There is a fence line out there somewhere, and I headed in that direction. I didn't even try to see Duke II, but I knew he would be fast on my heels, not out where any good Sentry Dog would be. Dogs usually don't trip much, or fall down if at all, the advantage of four paws hitting the ground pretty much at the same time.
I keep moving, my goal of reaching the fence line and clearing that right off. Flairs where known to go off all by themselves and it was a handler and dog that responded, not a reaction team. And right on time a flair went off and I was standing about 10 feet from the fence. I was also lite up like a night game at Florida Field. I had no where to go. I'm still carrying my bucket, weapon, and a lazy dog who is always behind me, I guess waiting to see what I will do next.
Well, I'm as low as I can go, and still be able to backup, found a bush about 3 feet high and set my bucket down and plopped myself down own on it. I could shade myself, hid myself in these bushes. This was good luck and I set up housekeeping.
The flair burns itself out and the darkness surrounds me again.
I moved up for a closer look, the flair was still red hot even though it was raining cats and dogs. I walked the fence line for about a hundred yards, then turned due south and tried to quarter my post, but is was useless. The ground is super slick and I can't keep my balance, and after several falls, I've finally had enough.
I made it to my bucket and had a seat. Duke got the best deal out of this, I put him under my poncho. He is mostly shielded from the rain and wind. I didn't try to clear my post, anymore, I just set and kept my eyes open. Getting hurt out here is easy in the slick conditions. So I'll buckled-down for the night, hold this position and hope the sun comes up in the morning. Now, if I don't drown or get washed away by the tons of water and mud coming off the runway it will be a miracle . There will be huge washouts all along the 10,000 foot berm road.
I know these condition are well suited for Sir Charles to sneak up and cut your throat or just shoot you. But I was convinced Mr. Charlie was home with the misses all snuggled together in there homie cocoon.
Bottom line, the worst night of my life. Wet, cold and dirty and still eight hours of duty. As you set and the rain continues to pounds you, hour after hour, you wonder if the night will finally end. Coffee truck has come and gone, I didn't meet it. I decided to not climb the berm, for a cup of coffee, wasn't worth it.
First shift had departed and the longest part of the night began.
I don't know, it just seems to be lonelier, when half the handlers are relieved of duty. The next handler is twice the distance away, and in this rain, well, I didn't see a soul all night.
This is the kind of night that try men's souls. I didn't want to think about Monsoon Season. It had a season all its own.
It was one hell of an effort to get up the berm to meet the truck and pickup. I was second on the truck and moved up to the front of the truck and took a little shelter behind the driver. It still was raining, but without the wind. The ride was slow, not the usual pick-up speed, which was always 'metal to the pedal', but tires were deep in mud tonight, so the driver took no chances.
I've never seen so dog-tired a bunch of dogs and handlers as those that mounted up for the trip back to the kennels. No dog fights tonight, no one encouraging a dog fight, just quite. It was still raining as the sun, or at least a lighted sky greeted the day. The night-watchers were ready for rest, not even a game of cards and a cold beer could drag us away from our warm, cozy beds. Exhausted, we sleep! In a few hours, we would be ready to do it all over again. Maybe a break in the rain, that would be nice. No planes lifted off to go anywhere last night.