June 11, 2011
I was neither a grunt nor an REMF, but somewhere in
between. I should explain; I was an Air Force radar
repairman stationed on an Army Special Forces A Team
camp. That has provided me with some interesting
memories. Every now and then, when I think of those
long ago times, I relive the unexpressed anxiety
when days slipped by and friends out on patrol
didn't return on schedule.|
To me the hours
seemed to slow to a crawl as the time passed. Then,
one morning would reveal that they had returned in
the night while we slept, and the world was whole
again. There was a breath of relief, silent thanks,
and a weight lifted from the soul. All unexpressed,
hidden in a smiling joke.
There was the
nagging belief, or superstition, that a display of
too much affection or friendship would somehow
conjure up a jinx. Real affection was therefore not
overtly displayed. It may have been foolish, but
that's how I felt.
There is the enduring
memory of the youngster who went on patrol when he
wasn't scheduled to go because he wasn't “being paid
to sit around camp playing Liar's Dice with a bunch
of Zoomie Legs.” He became separated from the others
during an ambush, and they were unable to find him
I never saw him again, but when
he was found a few days later, we were told that his
body had been mutilated. He was full of good spirits
when he left, so I prefer to remember him as I last
saw him, smiling and happy. Lord knows he earned his
pay that day.
I sometimes thought that the
people back Stateside were very fortunate. We
‘In-Betweeners' not only watched our friends depart
from ‘home,' we had a much better idea of what they
were doing – and what was being done to them – while
we waited for their return.
Another time, I
remember the voices from the radio as a sister camp
was desperately resisting being overrun, and the
angry, frustrated anguish as our men, unable to
assist, listened as their friends fought and died.
Courageous men do weep, bitterly and unashamedly.
Curiously, I remember little of the times when
we were attacked: the fiery stream of red tracers
hosing down from above the flares, accompanied by a
burping roar as Spooky circled invisibly overhead;
helicopter gunships darting like vengeful,
death-dealing fireflies; mortars exploding, machine
guns and rifles rattling.
The most vivid
memory is not of an attack on the camp, but of one
on the village right next to us. The worst part was
when it was over and we went to aid the villagers.
How do you comfort a burned, bleeding child when you
cannot even speak his language?
enough, the memories of more peaceful times are much
clearer. I suppose my mind prefers to recall the
periods sitting on the sandbags watching the muted,
dancing flashes from distant conflicts off on the
horizon than replaying the episodes that were, as
they say, up close and personal.
It is, I
suppose, a defense mechanism. If you don't remember
the more stressful times, there is less guilt felt
in having survived them relatively unscathed.
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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