This is a piece written by: Anthony Klosky – Served in the US Army 1967-1973 and in Vietnam 67 – 69. He writes about the darkness of night and his experience one night during bunker guard on the perimeter of his firebase. Why is night the scariest part of a 24-hour day? Find the answer below:
He awoke with a start and heard rough voices, “Time to get up…get your fucking ass up…and stay awake,” the voice announced, then left the bunker.
Their orders were clear; watch for strange shadows and sounds or anything else that might go bump in the night. He rose with his mind still half asleep, yet awake.. he thought… Checking his weapon and other supplies by touch to make sure they were all in place. The only visible light illuminated from the hands of his watch.
As he sat on the filled sandbags and listened, the jungle was already alive with sounds and fleeting shadows. He began seeing things that played with his mind, second-guessing as to what might be out there – stressing him out – even more. Something’s up! He kept hearing a certain noise – a snapping sound like somebody using pliers to cut through a strand of barbed wire; it seemed to move up and down the line. He hoped it was only an animal bumping into the barbed wire. He tried hard to keep his eyes open and focus to his front without blinking, he didn’t want to miss anything during that split second. Beads of sweat already gathered upon his neck and shoulders, a few of them broke away and ran down his back; triggering a shiver that caused his head to shake briefly and his shoulders to bunch up. He grabbed the Starlight Scope and brought it to his eye, held his breath, and hoped he didn’t see something that wasn’t supposed to be there. After seeing only a greenish glow of vegetation in this jungle of fear, he exhaled slowly, relieved for small miracles. It was all quiet for several moments, and provided him with the opportunity to catch his breath. He glanced at his watch, and was shocked to see that he’d only been on watch for fifteen minutes…he sighed and hoped it wouldn’t be like this all night long.
Somewhere out there, a tiger roared, making itself known, as it scampered through the darkness of the jungle. The sound startled him. So as a precaution, he moved around and jumped up and down, hoping that the noise he made kept the big cat away. Then, he heard the sound of a rock rattling inside an empty c-ration can that hung on the wire somewhere up the line. It was a distinct sound and in an instant, the night lit up like the 4th of July. An M-60 machine gun and several M-16’s opened up – firing into the wire to their front. He watched the red ribbons of tracer rounds reaching out from the perimeter – ricochets launching into the sky and dancing through the darkness. Illumination rounds soon followed, bursting overhead in a shower of light on that side of the perimeter – turning night into day. A nervous voice on the radio broadcasted warnings of movement in the wire. He hunkered down and peered through the front firing port of the bunker. Watching. Waiting. The wild beating of his heart echoing loudly in his ears.
As fast as it started, it stopped. The dark and quiet returning once again; the cold dead silence, seemed more frightful than the earlier mad minute. That uneasy feeling was going to bother him all night, generating more nervous sweat with continual rivulets of moisture rolling down his back and collecting at his waist. He kept glancing to the east for some sign of daylight approaching. Unfortunately, it was not to arrive for a few more hours, and he would just have to soldier up until then.
He walked outside and checked around the bunker before climbing on top. He sat there nervously and continued his watch, then noticed the cordite smell hanging in the air – acrid, stinging when inhaled – causing him to cough. A cloud of exploded gun powder from the battle drifted over to his location and further hindered his ability to see beyond ten feet to his front. The continuous staring into that darkness was straining his eyes, his brain suggested that he close them to rest for a bit. He was dead tired and sleep was welcome, but he fought the impulse knowing full well that if he did, he’d most likely fall asleep, and thereby, place everyone inside the perimeter at risk. He looked at his watch once again, and noted that only a total of 30 minutes had passed. What seemed like an eternity was only a moment in time.
All at once, a fire fight erupted somewhere out in the jungle to his front; red and green tracers flew toward one another across the darkness. The fireworks were mesmerizing and a welcome break during this ominous night. He silently hoped that it continued for a while – giving him some peace of mind that the fighting out there meant the enemy was stopped before they reached him. He could hear the sounds of the distant battle – crackles and pops, punctuated with the sound of exploding grenades.
After ten minutes, the firing came to an end, only multiple flares remained to light up the area – he could picture the grunts walking amidst the death and destruction policing the area for enemy bodies and supplies, counting blood trails, and anxiously watching their backs for another attack. They’d also have to pack up and move because their location was compromised. He’d been there and done that – the adrenaline keeping them hyperactive. The flares were soon shrouded in a heavy white cloud of smoke that drifted with the slight breeze and now heading his way. The quiet was deafening!
A short time later, the smell of the battle finally reached the perimeter. He knew it would linger for the rest of the night. There would be no respite from the smell and nowhere to clear his head. The smell of burnt gun powder is something he’d never forget. In fact, it had stayed with him even to this day.
Stress continued to build as the night moved along. At this point, he was certain that most of his four-hour shift was over. But his watch showed that only one hour passed since waking. Seemed like his watch had stopped so he used the radio to verify the time. Once again, he’s disappointed and what seemed like an eternity – was only a moment in time.
He slowly made his way back into the bunker and was surprised shortly thereafter when the same M-60 machine gun and M-16’s opened fire once again. This time, they also blew a couple of Claymore mines, these explosions much louder than grenades. He was certain that someone had to be crawling around out there and trying to get through the wire. The hair on his arms stood up, and he shivered unconsciously with fear, knowing that the enemy was out there, somewhere, hidden in the dark. He set his rifle on the sandbags of the firing port and got into position to defend the firebase. He traversed his M-16 from left to right – his cheek resting on the rifle stock, and eyes followed the barrel downrange. He stopped after several sweeps, certain that he saw something crawling through the blackness, its movements excruciatingly slow…he held his breath. Waited. Ready to engage what was hidden in the darkness of night.
Well done, Bro! Thank you for your service and welcome back to the world!
This article originally posted on the FB Group page: ” To Remember / A price was paid for our freedom” on September 1, 2015.
If you enjoyed this story, then you’d probably enjoy my newest book, “When Can I Stop Running?”. It’s a story about two soldiers who spend the night alone in a jungle “listening post” some distance outside the wire of the firebase. Their job was to hide, listen for enemy activity and forewarn the base of any potential dangers. Like the story you just read, my story is one I’ll never forget! Here’s the link – elsewhere on this website – for more information: https://cherrieswriter.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/what-this-website-is-about/
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