A siren in the night
One morning CAP 2-7-2 and several other CAPs got the ‘word’ to rendezvous at the red line in full combat gear. We were going on an ‘op.’
We were picked up by six-bys and hauled to Dien Ban, the district capital. The town was only a few miles south of the CAP 2 area of operations. I had been through there en route to 2nd CAG HQ, but never stopped there.
The trucks dropped us at the National Police headquarters in Dien Ban where I recall we waited a couple of hours to play our part in the operation. We lounged in groups in front of the police building, smoking, napping, visiting with friends from other CAPs, checking equipment and generally killing time. Every Marine is an expert at killing time, waiting for the “Word” to move out.
A porch ran across the front of the National Police building. Attached to the wall under that overhang, I spotted something interesting. It was a small, hand-cranked siren; the kind you sometimes see in old World War II movies.
I don’t remember why I noticed the siren. Maybe somebody accidentally pushed against the handle and I heard the siren’s first note, or maybe I just saw it. For some reason, I decided I had to have that siren.
I recruited a handful of buddies to screen me from view while I used a C-ration can opener to unscrew the siren from the wall. It was pretty easy. The wood had shrunk, leaving the screws loose. Then I just dropped it into somebody’s pack and we sauntered away.
I don’t remember anything about the operation, but I do remember I couldn’t wait to get back to Thanh Quit to try out our new siren. It satisfied all my expectations. Although small, the siren emitted a low howl when cranked that gradually grew into an up-and-down wail of incredible volume. It could be heard for miles in the quiet countryside of South Vietnam. The only problem was holding the thing in place while somebody was torquing on the handle. But we managed.
We gleefully cranked that siren two or three times a day to the amazement of our villagers. Aside from gunfire, I doubt that any of them had ever heard anything that loud. Some of the Marines of CAP 2 loved it, while others considered it complete foolishness.
I recall we even used the siren in ‘combat’ one night. Our night site was in the extensive grave mounds in the western half of our area. Once set up among the earthen berms and low concrete walls of a Vietnamese graveyard, we feared nothing but mortar fire, and we didn’t fear mortars very much. Only a direct hit would have caused any damage.
Sometime during the night, however, Charlie decided to liven things up by firing a few rifle rounds in our direction. I don’t know whose idea it was, but we responded by cranking up our siren. Soon the siren’s banshee wail was soaring over the paddies and echoing back from the tree lines. The sniper fire quickly stopped and Charlie remained silent the rest of the night. I like to think the enemy was befuddled by the weird noise, maybe fearing some secret weapon.
We only had the siren for a few days before the word came down from CACO 2-7 that somebody wanted it back — no questions asked. So one morning we hauled it to the red line when we went to meet the supply truck. I remember the supply truck crew was highly amused and they drove away cranking the siren madly. I believe ‘my’ siren graced the 7th Co. supply truck for two or three days before it was sent home. Anyway, the novelty had worn off and we were getting tired of humping the thing around.
That’s all. It was more like an episode from ‘M.A.S.H.’ than a story from the Vietnam War, but there it is.