Staying Awake

by Richard Dieterle

When we landed outside Khe Sanh, we had tried to set up in a hurry so that we could dig in in case the Guns of Co Roc opened up on us, but this plan soon went awry, and our positions were being constantly adjusted. Finally, it was decided that the Gun would set up on a spit to give it the widest field of fire. So we were actually standing out some way from the rest of the perimeter. There was a foxhole above us and to our right, and another one out on a shorter spit. We were told that we might well be attacked in force, since we were in an area where the enemy was strong. Consequently, we had to be on the alert and ready for a serious fight. As I was pulling guard late at night, a grenade exploded, followed by some gunfire from the adjacent foxhole to our right, the one out on a spit. Everyone sleeping in the prone behind the gun scrambled into the foxhole expecting the worst. Word came down that the people to our right had thought they had been probed, but it later turned out that this was probably not true. We were, at the time, though, pretty keyed up. Nothing happened, so I broke open a C-ration can of peaches, the most prized luxury that this near-food had to offer, and proceeded to eat peaches while my hand trembled. This is true "nervous eating." I even laughed at myself for this, but it was exquisitely delicious under the circumstances.

The next night a chopper came in after dark, landing with its lights on. It dropped off two new replacements. They were assigned to the position above and behind us, which belonged to another platoon. These guys were total cherries, but it was decided that they might as well take their turn at guard. They may have been rather short on sleep to begin with, since it is not irrational to worry about being assigned to the field. One of the gems of training that I acquired at Folk Polk still stuck with me. It was a good way to stay awake, so we were told. The instructor took out a grenade, and holding it in his hand while sitting on the edge of a foxhole, told us, "If you pull guard with a live grenade in your hand, I guarantee you, you will not fall asleep!" Our new guy had been taught this article of wisdom, and not being too confident that he could stay awake, put a grenade in his had and pulled the pin. Now he would stay away for sure. Guaranteed. That night there was an explosion, and soon afterwards the Medevac chopper took this guy away, that is, all of him but his two legs.