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I had rather have a plain, russet-coated Captain, that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that you call a Gentle-man and is nothing else.

-- Oliver Cromwell
Generator Watch8744 Reads  Printer-friendly page

Vietnam One night in late '67 at Marine Quang Tri Forward, I was assigned to generator watch. It is very boring to watch a 500kw Buddha generator generate. We had to keep one generator on-line, because the air strip was finished; and we might need the airfield lighting in an emergency. To ease the boredom, I had been watching a praying mantis approach some unremembered insect so slowly. The motion was almost imperceptible.

The generator shack was like a SEAhut without stilts and one of the few buildings with a light on--just a 60 watt bulb. You could see the pictures (and read the dials), but text wasn't very readable. I wasn't reading, however; I was watching this mantis.

Generators are heavy and noisy and tend to shake a lot when running--plywood wainscoting, screen, corrugated tin roof, canvas blinds down over the screens. Except for the vents for the generator exhausts and the sandbags piled around the wainscoting, it was very much like the standard hootch.

There were three generators at QT Forward; and just before dawn, I would have to bring a second one up, phase it in, and bring it on-line. A second Seabee would be awakened to join me in this simple two-man operation.

If you are patient and don't blink, you can see a mantis strike. It goes from moving so slow that the motion is difficult to detect to a blur so fast it is almost imperceptible.

The generator sputtered, just a change in rhythm. But, to someone attuned to an engine, such a change speaks volumes. I ran over (just a few feet) to the big Buddha. Voltage okay, amp load light, cycles-per-second right on sixty, plenty of fuel...

It had settled down right away, but I was worried about the anomaly. I walked around the machine several times. Damn. There must be something, but I saw nothing awry. I went back to my mantis; but it was gone, as was the prey. Oh well. An eternity of watching, and I had blinked.

I stepped out for a cigarette (against the rules; but at this time of the morning, who's gonna see). I fished the little c-rats box of Lucky's from my pocket, lit it with my Zippo, and glanced over at the north side of the shack. Four points of light shined through the canvas blinds that hadn't been there before.

I flipped the Lucky into the dark and went back inside. Three rounds had flattened themselves against the sides of the "iron monster" and one had glanced off the injector and gone through the other side of the shack. I hadn't been looking for sniper rounds.

My first reaction was to turn off the 60 watt bulb, but then I felt real conspicuous shining a flashlight around the shack. So, I turned the overhead light back on and sat real low on the floor.

This watch would be over in a few hours. Maybe another praying mantis would light on the screen. I had been told that the Vietnamese believed they were good luck and tied them to their ancestral offerings by strings.

Note: by Mike Howard


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This Day in History
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1941: The British navy raids a German position off the coast of Norway and inside the Arctic Circle-the Lofoten Islands. The raid, code name Operation Claymore, proved highly destructive of its target--an armed German trawler--but ultimately a failure in achieving its objective, the capture of an Enigma decoding machine.

1944: The U.S. Eighth Air Force launches the first American bombing raid against the German capital of Berlin.

1951: U.S. Marines advanced to within nine miles of Hongchon.

1968: In a draft memorandum to the president, the Ad Hoc Task Force on Vietnam advises that the administration send 22,000 more troops to Vietnam, but make deployment of the additional 185,000 men previously requested by Gen. William Westmoreland (senior U.S. commander in Vietnam) contingent on future developments.