The First Attack
May 17, 2011
This is a story about the fear that I, an Air Force
radar repairman with minimal combat training, felt
when I experienced my first enemy attack and
realized that I really could be killed, and my deep
relief when it didn't happen and I emerged unscathed
when it was over.|
The Alarm! We're under
attack! Charlie is here! I grab my rifle and snatch
my pack from its place on the wall. Breathing fast,
I run quickly to my position behind the Commo
bunker. Crouched under the sandbags, I load the
machine gun with hurrying, anxious fingers,
meanwhile trying to peer through the dark opening
into the featureless blackness beyond the bunker.
There had been a flurry of small arms fire to the
right of my position, but now it is quiet.
There is nothing to see. Where are they? How far
away are they? How close are they? It is so damned
dark! There is nothing to see, nothing to see. But I
know they are out there, quiet, invisible, menacing.
I keep scanning the darkness. I should have stayed
back on my radar site in Montana, bored but safe.
Well, I'm damned sure not bored now.
is dark. Long forgotten childhood memories start to
surface. I remember lying concealed in the basement
back on Third Street in DC, playing hide and seek on
a summer evening, but this is no game. These are no
friendly neighborhood kids searching the night here,
but an implacable enemy intent on my destruction.
My heart is beating fast and heavy as I feel I
can detect the menace beyond the wire. I know that
there are friends all around me; there's a guy right
beside me, but I feel constricted, isolated by the
sandbags. I keep straining to see. How can it be so
dark? Two weeks training for this. Shit! Then
someone is behind me at the bunker entrance.
Bac Si Cox, the Army Special Forces medic, is a
dimly seen smile and an easy voice, asking: “How's
it going?” “Okay so far, Danny,” I answer, surprised
that my lowered voice sounds almost normal. “Hey,
man, don't mean nothin'...” he says, as he detects the
suppressed emotion. We talk softly for a few
seconds, and then he leaves as quietly as he came.
After he's gone, I realize that my heartbeat has
returned to almost normal. Reassured, I peer at the
shadowy figure of the guy hunkered close beside me
in the bunker and wonder why I did not draw comfort
from his presence as I did with Danny. My bunker
mate is a few years older than my thirty-one. Danny
Cox must be nearly ten years younger than I am, but
in experience, he is my grandfather. After a few
more almost desultory scattered shots, it's over.
It seems that Charlie really wasn't serious in
his attack this time. After having left us in peace
for so long, he just wanted to remind us that he is
still out there. Point taken: the night belongs to
him. As far as I'm concerned, he can have it.
There is a further wait then we're told to hang
it up. We secure the machine gun and leave the
bunker. I breathe a long, long, silent sigh. My
first attack is over and I am still very much alive.
Thurman P. Woodfork
Thurman P. Woodfork (Woody) spent his
Air Force career as a radar repairman in places as disparate as
Biloxi, Mississippi; Cut Bank, Montana; Tin City, Alaska; Rosas,
Spain and Tay Ninh, Vietnam. In Vietnam, he was assigned to
Detachment 7 of the 619th Tactical Control Squadron, a Forward Air
Command Post located on Trai Trang Sup. Trang Sup was an Army
Special Forces camp situated about fifty miles northwest of Saigon
in Tay Ninh province, close to the Cambodian border.
After Vietnam, Woody remained in the Air Force for nine more years.
Thurman P. Woodfork's site for more information
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