Pay Their Dues

Pay Their Dues
SITREP From Machete Alpha 6

(March 1995, Military magazine, PO Box 189490, Sacramento, CA, 95818)

The other day I had occasion to think about an old friend of mine, Major (Chaplain) Aloysius P. McGonigal…I’m not kidding, that was his real name. Father McGonigal with his real name. Father McGonigal with his smile and wonderful Irish brogue could have played Barry Fitzgerald’s part in a remake of an old Bing Crosby movie about Catholic priests. In combat he was one of those chaplains who had a calling to be with the troops…out where the body bags are filled…where that old saying “there are no atheists in the trenches,” means something…but that’s another story. He loved the troops…but never try to BS him.

I recall him telling us during one of his services out in the jungle in Vietnam that he was sure God felt special about soldiers because he understood how much they had to endure. Somehow it made things a little more bearable for a while.

Anyway, I was wondering what heaven for “grunts” (infantrymen) should be like (Navy, Marines and Air Force would each have their own). We never had much so we’d only need a few small things, like the C-rations would taste great, your name never appears on the KP or guard roster, reveille is at 0900 and on payday the paymaster always informs you that you’re getting an extra 10 bucks in back pay.

For Vietnam vets, in my mind it seems only fair that the draft dodgers of that war should be forced to man the defensive perimeter at a fire base…lets call it…”Revenge,” while we relax and have a party each night…just a little something extra. We could watch them dig bunkers, through hardpan, chop trees and fill sandbags for overhead cover each day out in the blistering sun…then spend sleepless nights waiting for “Charlie’s” visit, which will deliver wild, insane moments, known as ground combat. Times, where they will learn, as we did, just how beautiful the breaking of a new dawn can be…and something about the miserable way we lived while they were safe at home in the states or in Canada, smoking pot and making love. As darkness falls, we will remain inside the perimeter with plenty of ice cold beer, barbecuing steaks and preparing for the nightly entertainment…a major ground attack by “Charlie” on those draft dodgers in their bunkers. Remember, this is grunt heaven and my fantasy so the rules of this unique place will never allow the VC to break through to where we are…we get to watch and get drunk as those slackers find out what they missed during the war.

After those 1960s “love children” have spent five or six terror filled hours staring out at the black wall of jungle…thinking they see things moving out there, the fun starts. The sound of a single mortar round dropping into a mortar tube somewhere out there is heard by all. About 25 seconds later the round slams into the ground right in front of the line of bunkers. More rounds are heard being dropped into more tubes and soon night is filled with the explosions and flashes of rounds impacting near each bunker. This goes on for about an hour then a trip-flare goes off out front and the shapes of men moving toward the barbed wire can be seen…they are firing their AK-47s in the assault and as each scum bag looks out through the aperture of his bunker, he sees the blue green spiral of a tracer round, which he swears is headed right for him. A red star cluster signals a call for our final protective fires.

These guys told America they were the ones with real courage…not to report for duty in a war they objected to…sure they were. Some of these so called heroes of the anti-war movement fire back, but fear as they have never known grips them…the attackers, “uncle” Ho Chi Minh’s boys, who those shit bags had supported during the war, want to kill them…only this time we are rooting for the VC…we know the draft dodgers won’t die, just have the crap scared out of them and we get to enjoy the show.

Requests for artillery and gunship support are in vain. The antennas have been ripped down by the first few mortar rounds. Bunkers are hit by RPG’s. Those hippies inside are blinded and choking on the sand and dust that rains down from the torn sand bags on top of the splintered logs of the bunker. The sound of small arms fire is everywhere as orange and blue tracers lace the dark. Nervous fingers claw around inside the bunkers as defenders try to find fresh magazines of ammo to reload their rifles. The VC are coming through the wire. Panic sets in as each man’s M-16 jams. We watch and laugh, making bets as to which one will defecate in his drawers first or who will simply melt and cower at the bottom of his bunker.

Suddenly the attack is over and we go back to our party. Our entertainers will be shipped off to a new firebase to relive the horror show (spelled with a big H) again the next night for another bunch of vets, but not before we get to taunt them a bit. Later a new shipment of draft dodgers will arrive and must dig new positions for a repeat of the previous night’s performance. We lay around in the shade and each of us gets a “CARE package” from home during mail call.

For the greatest draft dodging coward of them all, Bill Clinton, there will be a special hell. He will occupy a one man listening post each night way out in front of the perimeter. Alone in the dark he will hear voices, in Vietnamese and the footsteps of the VC all around him. If he tries to call back to the fire base he will find that the wire to his field telephone has been cut and he can’t even find the comfort of a voice on the other end as he lays there sobbing, praying the sound of his heart, beating like a drum doesn’t lead the VC directly to him. After the VC pull back he will spend the remainder of the night, haunted by the ghost of the man who took his place in Viet-Nam…a fitting torment.

Father McGonigal would chastise me for the anger I still feel…but I think he’d still join us all for a cool one. Chaplain McGonigal was killed in action 17 February 1968 (Tet-68) in Hue, Viet-Nam. He was attempting to reach a mortally wounded soldier in order to administer last rights.

Machete Alpha Six…Out

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