That was the theory.
Although we could take a one-night R&R each month, I took only one and never went back. The first part of my R&R went as expected. I caught the afternoon supply truck to CACO 2-7 headquarters, dumped my field gear in a corner somewhere and had my evening meal in our “EM club.”
The club was your standard flimsy U.S. military “hootch” with a 2×4 frame, plywood walls and floor and a corrugated tin roof. Our club had a plywood bar across the east end, behind which was a large refrigerator that sometimes worked. Some captured weapons and a VC flag hung on the north wall. After dark a sheet was hung on one wall and somebody fired up the projector to show a movie.
The movie for that night was the classic horror film “Night of the Living Dead.” If you’ve never seen it, watch it, preferably in the daytime … with two or three heavily armed friends for backup. It will completely creep you out.
I had never seen “Night of the Living Dead,” so I had no idea what I was in for. In the movie, a U.S. satellite returns to Earth emitting an unknown type of radiation. The television news anchors report the government is investigating, but there’s nothing to worry about. Right. You know something terrible is going to happen, but you don’t know what.
The strange radiation soon proves to have an eerie power. It reanimates recently (and not so recently) dead people and sets them clawing their way out of morgues and graves. Soon hundreds of zombies are stumbling everywhere because the weird radiation has also give them an insatiable hunger for living … human … BRAINS! Anybody they catch is wrestled down and his skull chewed open while he’s still alive, often by a dozen or more zombies. And some of them are happy to eat other body parts, too.
The only way to kill one of the zombies is by shooting it in the head. You can cut off their limbs and shoot them over and over in the heart, but they keep coming unless you hit them in the head.
Most of the movie takes place in an isolated farmhouse where a handful of terrified strangers hole up and endure a night-long siege by an army of zombies. I won’t spoil the surprise ending.
Maybe you guessed my reaction? There I was in a war-torn country liberally dotted with fresh graves and unburied corpses. Graveyards were a major terrain feature. And they showed me a movie about the dead rising and killing the living. I was practically immobile with fright by the end of the movie.
But I shook it off. Hey, I was a combat-hardened Marine surrounded by a couple of dozen other Marines, plus sandbag defenses, barbed wire, mines and armed guards. Why would I worry about zombies who didn’t even have AKs?
I went to bed and couldn’t sleep. I laid awake for a long, long time. I was desperately tired, but frightful scenes from the movie kept running through my head. Not to mention there were lights, muffled conversations and strange sounds from all over the 7th Co. compound and the surrounding RF compound. Finally I got up and retrieved my M-16 and a bandolier of ammo from my gear. I laid them beside me on the cot and with their reassuring (but lumpy) presence I eventually drifted off.
A huge explosion launched me out of my cot about an hour later, looking around in confusion. I cursed my stupidity for taking off my boots … something we never did at night in the bush.
I realized somebody was firing the 81mm mortar in the pit less than 50 feet from my cot.
It was like a grenade going off every minute or so. I wrapped my head in my poncho liner in a useless effort to block the noise.
I gave up and laid there on my cot as the mortar crew fired illumination rounds for an hour for a CAP that was in contact. After awhile I went out and volunteered to help handle ammo. By the time we finished firing, my ears were ringing and I was as wide awake as I’d ever been in my life. I was still wide awake when the sun came up.
I was waiting with my gear when they started loading the morning supply truck. I helped load C-rations and water cans on the truck and eagerly climbed aboard. Once back in Thanh Quit I staggered to the 2-7-2 daysite, found a good spot to lie down and fell instantly asleep.
For the rest of my tour I refused all suggestions that I go for one-night R&R.
Posted on Feb. 21, 2000