The Year of the Monkey
"CORPSMAN UP! CORPSMAN UP! GARCIA IS HIT!"
"THEY'RE TO THE RIGHT! TO THE RIGHT!"
"SPREAD OUT! THEY'RE IN THAT BUILDING!"
"ROCKETS! FUCK. ROCKETS! INCOMING! INCOM---"
"OH CHRIST, I'M HIT. I'M BLEEDING!"
"GUNS UP! GET THAT FUCKING 60 UP HERE!"
"GET SOME FIRE TO THE FRONT! LAY DOWN FIRE ON THAT BUILDING!"
"Alpha One, Alpha One, this is Alpha Six. What's going on up there?"
"GET THAT GUN ON THE SECOND FLOOR! THEY'RE ON THE SECOND FLOOR!"
"SCANLON, GET SOME BLOOPER INTO THAT FUCKING WINDOW!"
"DOUGLAS, MOVE FORWARD. GET INTO THAT BUILDING!"
"Alpha One, this is Six. What is your situation?"
"MOVE IT, MOVE IT! GET COVER IN THOSE BUILDINGS! GET OUT OF THE FUCKING STREET!"
"GET GARCIA UNDER COVER! SCANLON, GET THAT BLOOPER WORKING! THE SECOND FLOOR! THE SECOND FLOOR!"
"CORPSMAN UP! BOWERS IS HIT!"
"MOVE OUT, MOVE OUT! GET OUT OF THIS FUCKING STREET!"
"DIE YOU MOTHERFUCKERS!"
"Alpha One this is Six."
"SIX, WE GOT SOME HEAVY SHIT COMING DOWN ON US UP HERE! WE ARE TOO BUSY TO TALK, WE'LL GET BACK! OUT!"
"Alpha One, this is Six."
"SIX, WE NEED SOME HELP. WE'RE GETTING THE SHIT KICKED OUTTA US UP HERE!"
...They entered the northern part of the city in typical Marine Corps fashion: "Hey diddle diddle, right up the middle". Straight down the first large street they came to and straight into an ambush. The point squad was barely fifty yards down the street when NVA gunners opened up with everything they had. The Marines were pinned down immediately.
They tumbled into the closest doorways. A hail of rifle fire poured down on the street. B-40 rockets exploded, chasing them into the buildings. Shards of cement from the rocket explosions into walls flew like missiles. The street seemed to undulate under the impact of exploding rockets.
They smashed out windows and attempted to return fire up the street into upper story windows where enemy gunners fired. The result was a lather of gunfire so intense it came in waves. The cacophony of explosions was ear shattering.
"WHO'S HIT? DOC, WHERE ARE YOU? WE GOT WOUNDED MEN HERE!"
"ROCKETS UP! WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE ROCKETS? GET SOME LAAWS UP THERE INTO THOSE WINDOWS!"
"Alpha One, this is Six. What's going on up there?"
"SIX, THEY GOT US PINNED DOWN UP HERE. WE'RE INSIDE SOME BUILDINGS ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE STREET. THE GOOKS ARE ON THE UPPER FLOORS ABOUT FIFTY METERS AHEAD. WE NEED SOME TANKS UP HERE!"
"Roger One, understood. You need Tigers. Wait one."
"GET THOSE WOUNDED MEN AWAY FROM THE WINDOWS! SIX, THIS IS ONE. WE GOT WOUNDED UP HERE!"
"Roger One, understood. Wait."
"SIX WHAT ABOUT THOSE TANKS? WE GOT WOUNDED HERE. WE NEED THOSE TANKS. WE CAN'T MOVE FROM HERE!"
"Understand One. Will advise. Six out."
The waiting was impossible. Minutes became hours. Hails of gunfire pelted the buildings, tearing at walls, whittling concrete like balsa wood. The Marines fired back, but would barely stick a weapon near a window or door and the enemy, with the high ground advantage, would key in on it and deluge it with lead rain. The wounded moaned quietly. Bullets whistled and whipped through open windows.
Warner and his Marines were assigned as a tag-along squad with the company. The entire unit was like a pickup ball team, and included anyone who could fire a rifle and was shipped to the city from Phu Bai.
"SIX, THIS IS ONE. WHAT'S GOING ON? WHERE ARE THE TANKS?"
"Roger One, tanks are on the way. Hang in there."
Low rumble. The tanks. The M48 battle tank, a fifty-ton monster designed to put the fear of God into the most jaded heart. A tank slowly rolled down the street, its 90mm main gun seeking a target. Power in the raw.
Four B-40 rockets hit the tank almost simultaneously. Two more followed seconds later. The explosions were deafening. The driver threw gears and the tank lurched backward as fast as it could move.
"WHERE THE FUCK ARE THEY GOING? GET BACK HERE YOU MOTHERFUCKING HUMPS!"
"ALPHA SIX, THIS IS ONE. THE TANKS LEFT. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?" ...
...They never noticed the subtle changes. Most of the Marines of 1/5 were veterans, and to them killing was killing was killing. Killing Charlie in the jungle, in a rice paddy, or in a dark alley made little difference to them. They joked about it. They "wasted" the enemy or "dusted" him; they "cleaned his clock", and if successful at killing their enemy, they "got some." However, as the days wore on in Hue City, a transformation took place that was darker than any of them had ever known, or would ever know again.
It may never be known at what point the NVA soldiers realized they were all going to die. It was probably never articulated, but at some point, they must have realized that they were trapped within the walls of an ancient city and the Marines had been sent to exterminate them. There would be no prisoners, no wounded - they would all die.
The Marines were not told not to take prisoners, The Marines were told very little. Without being told they knew they would not leave the Citadel until their enemy was dead - or they were.
As the days progressed, carnage became the only reality. Eight hundred Marines attacked six thousand NVA and Viet Cong soldiers, and the Marines saw the odds as just fine. But they paid a price, not only in dead and wounded, but also in a collective loss of sanity as the fighting deteriorated into mindless, bloody mayhem.
Any rhyme or reason that may have existed when the Marines entered the city was long gone. It was no longer ridding the city of the enemy, but a house-to-house search for vermin. Each house presented a new threat. Each building offered the possibility of a quick and bloody death from only feet away. Each surviving NVA soldier could think and react as only the dying can - kill by any means possible - with rifles and grenades, with bayonets and rifle butts when the bullets ran out, with fists, teeth, and bloody fingernails when all was lost.
Sleeping, eating, or even breathing were functions not noticed as the insanity deepened. The world ceased to exist. Calendars and clocks meant nothing in the new reality. Wives, girlfriends, fathers and mothers became nothing. Living became nothing, as killing became everything.
No one counted the dead - no one noticed. It was hard to tell the living from the dead. Each house, each building, and each alley became its own reality: Hunting, being hunted, eyes blind to blood and deaf to screams - or pleas for mercy. There was no mercy, there was no world, and there was no God. There was only the killing.
In the end, someone other than they decided it was over. They did not know or care that it was over, that the last of the enemy had given up breath. Someone watching from the outside decided it was over and pulled them out.
They took the Marines back across the river to the city's soccer stadium. They brought them food to eat and chaplains to pray for them. It didn't matter - they didn't care.
Someone eventually counted bodies and declared a victory. The President gave them a special award for bravery. The men of 1/5 would from then on be known as the "Citadel Battalion", but only they would know what that really meant.
They were sent back to Phu Bai to "regroup", to shower, shave, and eat, and to add new members to their emaciated ranks. They would be sent on to new battles and new struggles. They had survived. Most would never understand why they would never be the same again...