"A 'Short' Time Can Become Eternity"

By Stephen "Rags" Ragle


Someone I know, an American on a visit, had been in Pleiku, Vietnam, when the recent bomb exploded. In fact, it exploded in the street in front of her hotel. I read her experience posted on the Internet, and it brought back a very distinct memory that reoccurs to me now and then:

Phu Bai, Vietnam, sometime in November of 1967. Less than a month to go to get back to the "world."

Some dreams always come back.

"A 'Short' Time Can Become Eternity"

I was in the MPs. We were headquartered outside of the main base just off Highway One. It was sometime early morning, maybe two or three, somewhere in there.

I was asleep in my cot. Next to the head of the cot, I had a wooden box of some sort. It was sectioned off, and I stood it on end to make a shelf out of it. I kept my shaving gear and other assorted items in it. I laid my helmet on top of it where it was in easy reach. I always slept in my jungle boots and utility trousers. No shirt. I used my flak jacket as a pillow. Here is a picture of me sitting on my cot. (this picture was taken in Dong Ha a few months earlier, but you get the idea)

We slept in GP tents with palettes for flooring. Just outside the back entrance to the tent was the standard, above-ground bunker. It was about five feet tall and maybe five by twelve feet in area. It had a blast wall across the entrance. The whole area was build or laid out on white sand.

I was sleeping as sound as I ever did back then, which was not very sound, when I heard an explosion and awoke immediately. I knew it was incoming, and it was close. I grabbed my helmet and flak jacket, putting them on as I ran for the bunker.

Just as I entered the bunker, I could see a flash of light over my right shoulder. I then felt the explosion as the shock wave hit the entrance.

I sat down with the rest of the guys from the tent. I heard two or three more explosions and a lot of shouting from outside. In a few minutes, there were no more explosions. Somebody came by the entrance to the bunker and shouted it was all clear. They also said the tent was on fire.

We left the shelter of the bunker to see what was happening. I could see our tent had been hit and was smoldering. Upon closer examination, I saw where the explosion had occurred. It was near my cot. A mortar had exploded where I had been sleeping before the attack.

The tent was in shambles. There was a big gaping hole where my stuff had been minutes before. Gear was thrown everywhere. In the dark, we could not identify much; so, I hunted for somewhere to bunk. I couldn't sleep well the rest of the night.

The next morning, I went to survey the wreckage. Luckily, no one had been hurt.

The box, that I had my helmet on, had been the point of impact inches from where my head had lain seconds before the explosion. My cot was totally destroyed. The cheap, red footlocker I had bought from the locals was in pieces. Most of my clothes were full of shrapnel holes, and my K-bar had a big chunk out of the backside of the blade. There was a piece of shrapnel in the stock of my M-14, and I was later reprimanded during an inspection for rust on the shrapnel.

I hunted through the debris for the rest of my stuff. I found a few articles, mostly destroyed, and I also found the tail fins from the mortar that had landed near my head. My camera and field jacket were about the only things that survived intact.

I wandered among the debris, on that white sand in the bright sun, sort of in a trance or numb, I guess. I kept going back to the charred remains of that box where the helmet had lain and the destroyed cot. I looked at them through the large burnt hole in the GP tent. I knew how close I had been to being killed, again, and how close I was to going home.....

Some dreams always come back....

Rags (USMC Dong Ha, Phu Bai 12/66-12/67)

copyright 1995 by Stephen "Rags" Ragle, all rights reserved