Beyond the Wire
In a sea of jungle, a ‘rubber’ isle,
Where Nui Dat stood out a mile,
A concert had been scheduled, one August day;
Col Joye, whom we quite well all knew,
Little Patti and rock bands, familiar too,
Setting up their equipment, they’d later play.
A performance on an open make-shift stage,
And no matter what each soldier’s rank or age,
Everyone was looking forward to this show.
Without electric heating power, For just a luke-warm rough bush shower,
All the ‘boys’ regardless, prepared themselves to go.
Amongst the trees, blared a popular song,
On a radio, as a Digger shaving, sang along,
Oblivious, with face half-covered in foam.
Ominous silence, normally daunting,
Now Tom Jones’ words were haunting,
In this tune about: ‘The Green Green Grass of Home’.
My mind ’twas wandering far away,
Wondering what’s on back home today:
“Folks are headin’ off to work, I would guess!
And of course my younger brother Rhett,
No doubt waggin’ school again I’ll bet,
While Mum’ll be cleanin’ up the usual mess!”
“Mmnn ... a cursory tidy of my tent’s in order,
‘Sarge’ will be here as this prison’s warder;
And I better give my rifle a quick ‘pull-through’!
Short stint on picket, alone on the Gun,
In daylight hours, requiring only one;
Then to the mess, for ‘brekky’ and a ‘brew’.”
Alas, late orders, arriving down the line,
A task to perform, at this crucial time,
Struck suddenly, as a very cruel blow;
An urgent job that just couldn’t wait,
Out beyond the wire until very late,
Unfortunately, we’d now miss out on the show!
Incoming mortars landed, the previous night,
And though our patrol would be travelling light,
Bullets and grenades issued, to avenge this deed.
Each rifle section had only the one,
Three belts of ‘ammo’ for that M.60 gun,
Awkward, heavy and hungry bastards to feed.
Limitations not then yet well known,
So still some ‘grunts’ possessed an Owen,
Thirty 9 ‘mils.’ to each ‘clip’, and very light.
Used in Malaya and well before,
Back in Korea and in ‘The War’,
Ideally suited, in any close-quarter fight.
Yet, here in Vietnam’s new conditions,
Obsolete, almost useless, these munitions,
Against NVA, or those we call VC.
In all our fire-fight exchanges,
Over 50 yards, or longer ranges,
Its sting no worse, perhaps, than from a bee.
Drums and guitars now tuning up,
A monsoonal storm also building up,
Thunder clapping ... or ’twas that mortar fire?
An eerie mix of strange vibrations,
Wafting through these rubber tree plantations,
Some from way out there … beyond the wire.
* * *
Now young ‘Shorty’ here, was no exception,
Thirty in his platoon, nine in his section,
Just a Digger, like any of the rest.
He had often eaten, or had tried,
All those C-Rations that they’d supplied,
Rummaging and selecting, what he thought best.
Amongst cans of ‘Ham and Lima Beans’,
No tasty meats nor fresh-cut greens,
’Twas called a balanced diet! … Oh what a laugh!
Of such things as tins of peaches there,
In demand and therefore always rare,
Only a special mate, might share a half.
Today, memories, still there are,
Of our favourite … ‘the choccy bar’,
Forgetting not those tasty cakes, called pecan rolls;
And small 4-pack ‘cigs’, Pall Mall and Salem too,
With all the stuff for a boiling brew,
Sufficient to fulfil one’s hunger goals.
Webbing and clothes that rarely fit,
Pouches with grenades and a first-aid kit,
You never knew what could happen, way out there!
Back-up ‘arty’ for our protection,
Coloured ‘smoke’ cans, two with each section,
For location they served fine, used as a flare.
Time to move out now drawing near,
Just one last check of all my gear,
Another water bottle? Or perhaps one more ‘mag’?
Yet would I have sufficient space?
Or would I need them, in any case?
O.K.! Enough time for one quick final ‘fag’!
Belt clipped up, then heavy back-pack swung,
Two bandoleers around shoulders hung,
All marquee flaps rolled down, to keep out the rain.
“Tonight, a hard or muddy bed?
Huh! ... I wonder who’ll sleep here instead?
A bloody damn ‘base wallah’, no doubt again!”
No tent protection then, for us at all,
No sand-bagged anti-shrapnel wall,
And as yet those promised floorboards, hadn’t come!
“I’m sick of mould and red mud, everywhere,
Late lonely picket, each night out there;
That reminds me! I must write home to Mum!”
Then at the perimeter’s zig-zag guarded exit,
A smoke plume rises, from a cigarette,
Each soldier slams a round, ‘up the spout’.
The ‘sig’ has received H.Q.’s permission,
So via the gun pit’s lonely front position,
The patrol in single file, moves on out.
Down rows of ‘rubber’, silently, fully alert,
Sweat stains rapidly forming on each man’s shirt,
Now 30 yards apart, in arrowhead formation.
50 lbs pulling, chafing, shoulders and hips,
Triggers caressed by anxious fingertips;
Jungle just up ahead, past this plantation.
Mosquitoes biting, ubiquitously,
Precautions taken, religiously,
Repellent rubbed on, Palludrine taken prior.
Each hand signal given, without a word,
Was that a bugle? … Or just wind I heard?
From way out there … beyond the wire?
5 Platoon B Company 5 RAR's 50 cal. weapon pit - on the wire facing east - December 1966 (Author's collection)
Beyond the Wire
There is a popular myth that there weren’t any fronts in Vietnam. Yet, those troops who had to patrol outside the barbed-wire perimeter (which surrounded the Nui Dat base camp), on a regular basis for twelve months, would not be convinced by that hypothesis. It would seem that this myth is more popular amongst those troops who remained relatively safe within the barbed-wire boundary or were located at sea, Vung Tau, Saigon or in other less dangerous zones. They constituted a significant majority. Indeed, the ‘VIETNAM VETERAN’ umbrella is conveniently all-encompassing ... for some. Some myths can mushroom well, with time and sentiment.
♪♪ The old home town ... looks the same,
As I step down ... from the train,
And there to meet me is my Momma ... and Poppa.
Down the road I look ... and there runs Mary,
Hair of gold ... and lips like cherry,
It’s good to touch ... the green, green grass ... of home. ♪♪
- from the song Green Green Grass of Home by Tom Jones, 1966.