A must read, courtesy of Bob Mack.


Be Sure You’re RIGHT, Then Go Ahead by Bob Mack

“North Vietnam cannot defeat the United States. Only Americans can do that.” — Richard Nixon

**The following took place during my long-ago sojourn in the Vietnam War. The names of my colleagues have been changed, not to protect the innocent — none of us were that — but because after almost 50 years, I can’t remember the real ones. But I can see the faces that went with them, as clearly as if I’d seen them just yesterday. Dialog has been reconstructed.**

We weren’t surfers, of course. The association was a loosely knit menagerie of Signal Corps misfits and an infantry grunt who’d been temporarily reassigned to our theoretically safe and secure locale while healing up from a minor combat injury incurred out in the Bad Bush. But the name sounded cool, and the South China Sea was close by. So that’s what we called ourselves. Hang 10, baby.

Associates had no boogie boards, but we always had reefer and warm beer in the bunkers. And we had rats, red-eyed varmints infested with plague fleas. They lived behind the sandbags and weren’t scared of anything except incoming. Sometimes we had boom-boom girls. They were warm too, but not as warm as the beer. The local Viet Cong constabulary was holed up in the nearby mountains, not doing much of anything usually, and when the boredom grew intolerable, they’d fire a few rounds at us for entertainment, haring off before the counter-mortar batteries could get a decent fix on their position. It was about as idyllic as Vietnam was ever going to get. It wouldn’t last, of course. Charlie had his lifers, same as us, and the big brass on either side is never happy unless they’re hurling their underlings at somebody’s throat. Unfortunately, this time one of those throats belonged to me.


“C’mon, man. I really want ya to go.”

“Are you crazy? You guys got shot at as soon as you left the gate yesterday.”

“Yeah, but nobody got hit. C’mon. Volunteer. Don’t make me order ya. The other guys are goin’. It’ll be fun. The midnight ride of the South China Sea Surfers. We’ll cruise in, pick that fat bastard up, and di di mau back here. Easy, peasey.”

“Stan, the damn city’s still full of gooks!”

“Hey, I got yer back. Ya don’t wanna live forever, do ya?”

“That’s exactly what I wanna do! I thought you was my buddy!”

“I got my orders, dipshit. I gotta go get the sergeant-major outta his billet, and I ain’t goin’ into town with a bunch of friggin’ damn FNG’s who I don’t know when there’s live Charlies running ’round. Now, you gonna volunteer for this here detail or not?”

“Aw, fer Christ’s sake, Stan.”

“That’s Sergeant Stan, Spec 4 Mack.”

“Okay, okay. I’m in. But you get me killed, and I’m gonna haunt yer sorry ass. You happy now, you persuasive prick?”

“As a clam. Grab yer gear an’ fall in by the Orderly Room. I’ll pick ya up there in 15 minutes.”

It was the third night of the Tet Offensive.


72 hours. After that, you shouldn’t be trusted with a cap gun, let alone a military assault rifle. I was closing on 72. We all were. Sleep deprivation is as dangerous as any other enemy. It’s probably why Giacomo dropped his weapon when he stepped on the dead gook[…]

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