It was raining hard again, the monsoon deluge pouring down in sheets. 2d platoon had been out in the field for how many days? Weeks maybe. I had no idea what day it was anymore, but at the last resupply, they'd brought out some Stars and Stripes dated December 21st, so I knew it was somewhere around Christmas.
The “Word” was that they were going to send out a hot turkey dinner on Christmas Day but any fool could look at the pouring rain and figure it would be just another case of "Sin loy, G.I, nevah huckin' happen!"
We'd pulled into this little dogshit ville that day, three little hooches on a high speed trail. Shaw, the platoon sergeant was setting the perimeter while Doc Parker and me, the RTO, were looking for a dry place to set up the platoon CP.
I checked out the larger hooch first. The walls were matted some-thing or other, bamboo probably, no place to hide anything dangerous there. I spent a good 10 minutes checking through the thatch roof, though--you can hide a lot of shit in a thatch roof.. I pulled out the bed and rummaged through the family's meager possessions while papasan, mamasan, and the babysans stood there glaring at me, trying to cover their hatred with indifference and not quite pulling it off. We stared at each other for a moment--them obviously wishing I was somewhere else and me wishing the exact same thing. It’s times like these that it’s comforting to remember who’s holding the rifle.
I tried to put everything back where and how I found it. My mama didn't raise me to kick people's houses apart, even in the asshole of the universe. I tried what I hoped was a conciliatory smile and laid a can of ham and limas and my second to last C-ration accessory pack on what passed for their kitchen table. What the hell, I thought, it was Christmas, maybe. Their expressions never changed so I painted on my most ghastly grin and snarled "Well, Merry fuckin' Christmas anyway, ya fuckin' slopes." Still the same look-- ***** You, GI! Well, maybe they didn't like ham and limas--no argument there.
Fortunately, Doc Parker stuck his head in the always open door, breaking up this gay madcap Christmas chatter, and said:" Hey it's dry over here."
The second hooch was smaller, obviously a store room, empty except for a few baskets and drying racks. Either they'd already taken the rice to market or the Cong had done it for them. The way they'd broken into all that happy Christmas cheer, somehow I just knew it was the VC.
The good news was that the hooch was big enough to hold Shaw, Parker and me and all our packs , radio and stuff. What a relief--we could stand radio watch all night and still stay dry. It seemed like forever since I'd been dry for any length of time and I wondered for the thousandth time if this ***** country had a season that didn't have pouring rain, gooey mud, blazing sun and choking dust sometimes all in the same day. If it did, I never saw it and I was there the year around.
I set up the PRiC 25 with the long antenna sticking through the thatched roof and called in a radio check to Zero, the senior company RTO.
"Alpha 6 Oscar, this is 2 Zero Oscar, over."
"2 Zero Oscar, this is 6 Zero Oscar, go"
"6, this is 2, radio check, how do you read me?, over"
"2, this is 6, I only read you 2 by 2, do you have the big ears on? over"
"6, this is 2, that's a roger, must be because the guy in the sky is peeing on us, over."
"2, this is 6, try moving to a better locale, over."
***** that, thinks I, it's dry here, get your mama out in the pouring rain.
"6, this is 2, am surrounded by hostile enemy, cannot, repeat, cannot move without giving away location, radio check complete, sitrep normal, 2 zero Oscar out."
"2, this is 6,go ahead and stay dry, then, 6 Zero Oscar out."
And Merry ***** Christmas to you, too, Zero, and I hope you get good and wet, catch pneumonia, and get medevacked to a long and happy life. Zero was 2d platoon RTO before me and he knew what was happening-- I'd learned it all from him.
I was hunting through my pack looking for a heat tab and wishing I had a pair of dry socks when I heard Doc's "What the *****? Over?"
Looking out in the driving rain I could see the XXXL figure of Sgt Shaw with each enormous black hand holding a thoroughly bedraggled gook by the arm.
It was a young papa and mamasan combination, wearing black pajamas and cone head hats. He carried a small bag with their meager possessions and she was so pregnant she looked about to pop. Both of them together looked like they weighed about as much as one of Shaw's legs and maybe they did.
They were refugees on the road to God knows where--there were a lot of refugees on the road in '68. Probably going back home to renew their driver's licenses, ha ha, or maybe pay their taxes. Yeah, that was probably it--going back home to pay their taxes. That made sense in a world gone totally nuts.
"Looky heah what ah got," says Shaw in that cornpone Mississippi accent, "They damn lucky they got heah fo' we set out the trip flares o' it'd bin Sin Loy Motherfuckahs 'n' save six fo' pallbearers. Think ol' Fahmah Brown ovah yonduh'd let 'em stay ovah night?"
Somehow I didn't think so and sure enough, when the young guy went over to beg a little floor space for his tiny mamasan, Farmer Brown told him in no uncertain terms what he thought of them, us, and the world in general. I couldn't understand a word but it sure
didn't take a crystal ball to figure out it wasn't "Merry Christmas, set right down and have some ham and limas." More like "No room at the inn and drop dead anyway, *****!"
"Well ain't this a *****?" growled Shaw, "And that po' lil gal lookin' like a cottonmouth that swallad a hop toad. Maybe we oughtta go teah down they fuckin' house and let 'em all go to hell!" I didn't disagree.
But the Doc was already steering them over to the third little hooch, a little animal pen really, with only three walls. It smelled like shit the worst but at least one corner of it was dry. Farmer Brown stared after them sourly, not liking it at all but wisely deciding not to antagonize the 6'6" 240 lb Geechee Shaw, who was glowering ominously at him, like he was about to break into Fee Fie Fo Fum or something. It never pays to piss off a Christian on Christmas, 'specially a wet black giant with a temper like a mad dog , who’s standing in front of your house, flipping a grenade up and down in his hand like a baseball. Farmer Brown may have been sour but he sure was no fool.
"Jesus," Doc said later, as he crawled back into the little CP hooch, "That little gal's in a bad way, she's going to have that baby any time now."
"Lucky fo' huh she found huhse'f a good ahmy doctah wit' a 10 week medical deegree," chuckled Shaw.
"You mean me? Me? Lawzy, Miz Scahlett, I doan know shit 'bout birthin' no babies.My practice is limited to eyes, ears, nose, throat and sucking chest wounds. Say, didn't you tell me that you and all of your brothers and sisters were born in a piney woods shack?"
"Yeah Ah did 'n' Ah was the lastes' one of all 'n' mah daddy got drunk and slep' through all of 'em. He allus said it was the manlies' thing to do at a birthin'"
"Gotta agree with him there,"says I, helpfully, "So who's got the booze, anyway?"
"Well ***** you guys and save 6 for pall bearers," said the Doc, "Just see if I ever save your rotten ***** lives again."
"When did you ever save our rotten ***** lives?" I asked him.
"Oh, wasn't it you? Guess it must have been two other rotten ***** assholes, then. Well, maybe she won't have it 'till after we leave."
No such luck, thinks I, and guess what? I'd just finished radio watch around 2300 when the moans and groans coming from the little hut became a high keening wail punctuated by screams. The little guy was babbling in front of our hooch in the downpour, hands clasped Buddhist style, bowing and bobbing like a jumping jack but Doc was already cursing his way out.
"Goddam Jesus H Christ on a goddam Christ-like crutch."
"That's the Christmas spirit," I cheered him on, "Maybe they'll name it after you."
"Yeah and ***** you, too," he snarled, "Come if I call you, goddammit!"
He did, too. Through the pouring rain, I could hear him call my name.
"Bring my poncho, goddammit, DO IT NOW!"
He spread the poncho on the mud and shit floor and gently laid the girl on it.
"Jesus, oh Holy Jesus," he mumbled, but now it sounded more like a prayer. "Hold the light, I think it's coming out backwards."
It sure was. You could see the little feet sticking out by the dull, fading light of the army flashlight. The shuddering contractions wrenched the girls tiny body to and fro.
"Oh shit, oh Jesus, and I ain't got shit to work with in the middle of a fuckin’pig sty," Doc moaned, "Guess I'll just have to try to get it out with my fingers. Grab a leg and try to hold her steady."
"Look at the bright side, Doc, " I tried to sound cheerful. "It's not gonna hurt me a bit!"
"Shove a cork in it, asshole," he growled, "If that light starts to go bad, go get Shaw's."
"Ah gots it right heah," said Shaw over my shoulder. He pushed his way into the little hooch and grabbed the girl's other leg. "'N' Ah gots Caraway watchin' the radio." He laid a big hand on the girl's forehead. "Doan worry yose'f, honey chile, Doc's the fo'th best medic in the battalion. "
But the Doc was too wrapped up in his work to snap back. For what seemed like an eternity, he worked his fingers in and out of her body, both lost in the struggle, he never taking his eyes from his work, she never taking her eyes from his face. They almost seemed like one creature, at war with itself, her pushing and shuddering, him pulling, poking, massaging, both groaning, a tiny mortal combat hidden in an enormous war. I thought it would go on forever but just when they both seemed totally exhausted, with one titanic internal heave, the little thing slid into the Doc's bloody hands.
Quickly, expertly for one so young, Doc grabbed the little thing by its feet, turned it upside down and whacked its bottom. It coughed a few times, spat something nasty on his shirt and started to howl. I heard Doc mutter something that sounded strange like "Oh Jesus, thanks." He carefully laid the tiny baby on the woman's stomach, bent over her until they were face to face, kissed her and whispered "It's a boy, Mrs Walker, it's a boy." I could see tears in their eyes but they both were smiling. Shaw was grinning from ear to ear, his white teeth like piano keys in his coal black face.
I thought about saying something but I found I had this strange lump in my throat, and what was there to say, anyway? It was too big for wisecracks, bigger than all of us, bigger than the war, bigger than anything. I backed out of the hut, leaving Shaw to hold his light.
I shook my head to clear it and, lighting my last dry cigarette, noticed for the first time that the rain had stopped. Not only had it stopped but right above us the clouds had parted, showing a single star so bright that for a moment I thought it was a flare.
The stars down by the Equator are strange, I know, but still, I'd never seen this one before. As I stood there, smoking silently, gazing up at the bright new star, Caraway stuck the radio handset out of the hooch and said "Check this shit out!"
I almost dropped the cigarette with surprise as I recognized the familiar sound. Somewhere out there in Army Radioland a choir was singing "Silent Night."
Note: by James Worth.