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RECOLLECTIONS: Just Another Day
By Jeff Motyka As Told To Marc Levy
In Compton it was just another day. Hot and sunny and no wind. I had KP and was serving chow to grunts and firebase crews. We'd been on patrol two weeks--this was our reward.
The lieutenant was gone. In the bush a resupply bird took him out. And brought in a new man. My pal Gary didn't want to be platoon sergeant so James Aalund, a drafted Shake-and-Bake with no combat experience got the job his first day in the field.
It was Saturday. After lunch, I was standing with Gary, Cookie and Tom looking at the mountains as the sun went down. Cookie said, "This would be truly beautiful if there wasn't a war going on." A second later we heard mortar tubes popping: Thuuup...Thuuup. We froze. Gary said, "Oh shit, there goes your beautiful day." Everyone yelled "INCOMING" then we ran for the bunkers.
The first two rounds fell outside the berm. The next two hit close. The VC walked the next seventy rounds counterclockwise inside the perimeter. Walking them our way. Tom helped build the bunker we were in. I said, "Can it take a direct hit?" Tom said, "Yeah, we could take a direct hit but from a mortar." He said a rocket would kill us. He said when the rounds stop be ready for a ground attack. We were scared. I was hyper alert to the silence, the explosions, the ground shaking.
When the mortars stopped we left the bunker. It was dark outside. There was no ground attack. A bunker near us was on fire. Grunts were yelling another bunker was hit. They were yelling about casualties and KIA's. Gary said, "Go over and get me a sit rep."
When I got there a body was being carried out. They said it was the new platoon sergeant and he was probably dead. They said a round exploded in front of the bunker as he looked out. The blast tore his head apart. Five guys got hit by shrap.
An officer asked if I knew where the platoon sergeant was. I told him he was probably dead. "Who's in charge?" he asked. I pointed to Gary who was helping put out the fire.
Later that night Gary said go inside that bunker with a flashlight. "Make sure it's empty," he said. I turned on the flashlight and saw a scene from hell. The walls were red and wet with blood. Like they'd been spray painted. Blood dripped from the ceiling, it ran down the walls. The sandbags were studded with small white pieces of bone. Then I looked down. I saw a human brain. It was lying in the dirt,shiny and glistening and coated with blood. Lorenzo Coleman was with me. I left the bunker, walked to a trash barrel, and found a Maxwell House coffee can.
Lorenzo held the flashlight while I scooped the brain into the can. Actually, it was half a brain; split down the middle. I put the can with the brain in the trash barrel. There was nothing else I could do. Lorenzo and I never told anyone. What for? And I didn't want anyone poking in the barrel to look at it.
We spent the night atop the bunker. I stayed awake all night. I'm not sure if Lorenzo slept, but I doubt it. The next morning I began cleaning the bunker. I think Lorenzo helped too. We pulled the bone fragments from the sandbags and put them in the trash barrel. We dried the walls and ceiling with sand. We covered the floor with sand to soak up and cover the blood.
The bunker had a beer and soda cooler made from a wooden ammo box lined with foil. I cleaned the outside of the cooler then opened it. Blood had gotten into the cooler. A lot of blood. The melted ice looked like strawberry Cool-Aid. I saw cans of beer and soda but I closed the lid and carried the cooler to the trash barrel.
A week or so later a memorial service was held for Sgt. James Aalund. This was the first time I heard his name. Most of the grunts in second platoon didn't know it.
When a new lieutenant arrived I became his RTO.
Jeff Motyka was an RTO with Delta 1/7 First Cav '69-'70. He lives in Tennessee in a big house with a lot of land so that it's very quiet at night.