I haven’t told my story to many people except for my wife and a few other of my close friends. It happened while I was stationed in the army as a radio operator during the Vietnam war, and I haven’t forgot it to this day. I was a young recruit, freshly drafted out of high school, and didn’t know much about the war. I had no idea what I was getting into or what it all was for, but what I did know was that I had a duty to my fellow servicemen.
We arrived there on a Friday evening and got loaded onto many buses to be taken to our barracks. The air was very humid and the soil was soaking wet due to a storm passing overhead. I vividly remember the drive, and how it stunk like a sewer. My first night was uneventful and quiet, but we all felt the tense atmosphere as our drill sergeants taunted us with stories during basic training. I remember the half moon right over my head, which kept peaking out from over the clouds, and all of us were just sitting around telling jokes. I was more of a technical guy and didn’t have much aptitude for comedy, so I just listened in.
My duty was to manage communications between my unit and all of our other guys so that everyone knew what was going on everywhere else. I carried a box on my back which was the size of radio devices back then, and also a ton more equipment and supplies. I was quickly assigned to a tight knit unit who had just lost their communications operator to a land mine, and I remember the first time we made contact with the enemy. It was the loudest thing I ever heard. We were in a dense part of the jungle and couldn’t see the enemy at all. But we ducked for cover as soon as they began firing at us, and we opened up in their general direction in return. The chaos felt like lasted forever, but we probably ceased fire after a couple of minutes. We advanced forward to close in on the enemy position and secure the area, and it was the first time I ever saw the enemy up close. There they were, three dead Vietcong soldiers laying in a pool of their own blood. I couldn’t believe that I was looking at three human beings that were alive just moments ago. Young guys who maybe had sisters or brothers and parents. They were probably just chilling around moments before we arrived, and here we are moments later looking at their motionless bodies. I must say that I felt justified, because they were the enemy and would’ve been standing over our dead bodies instead.
A few days later, we got assigned to a different location, which saw heavier casualties and needed more support. I grew accustomed to the violence, and saw many of our young men die painfully. One day I was told by my NCO that someone wanted to speak with me. I was greeted by an older man in his late 50s, who looked totally out of place. His demeanor was calculated and predictive, and even my commanding officer seemed to have turned into a yes man in front of him. He introduced himself as Frederic Douglas, an intelligence officer stationed nearby, and that I was going to be assigned to him as an RTO for his unit. The guys in my unit were like family to me, but orders are orders and I had no choice, so I got on the Huey and went with him.
We landed in a heavily wooded area next to a few Vietcong huts. It was heavily built up by the enemy, and I could definitely imagine the fight that must’ve taken place here. There were some guys who had gas masks on, and other soldiers standing nearby. But they didn’t seem to notice me, or even care that I was there. It was a very strange atmosphere that didn’t feel quite right. These guys didn’t act like normal soldiers, and definitely didn’t have the look of fear in their eyes as most of us did. I even tried talking with some of them, but all I got was this strange emotionless glare like they were infected with something. Whatever it was, they all had it, and it made me feel very uneasy.
Officer Douglas and I entered one of the smaller huts and I was told to stay put until someone would come and get me. I really should have stayed there and waited, but I was too curious and apprehensive to relax, so I just made my way out towards the main hut and took a peek inside. What I saw made my stomach drop like never before. On a makeshift table lay six murky containers. Each one of them had a severed head of a guerrilla fighter inside, with several tubes and wires protruded from them. A green liquid seemed to be reacting with the heads, as their mouths and eyes were quivering like they were half alive. I suddenly felt a hand grab onto my shoulder. It was Intelligence Officer Douglas, and he looked very upset. I meekly asked what they were doing inside there, but he angrily said that I should have not gone in there and sent me back to my hut.
We must have been attacked or something, because I woke up a day later in triage with several broken ribs and a fractured collarbone, and no memory of anything that happened after that. I never saw Officer Fredric Douglas or those soldiers ever again during my time, if that was even his real name. I often wonder what those guys were doing back then. Maybe they were trying to gather intelligence from the dead enemy soldiers or something. Either way, it was a strange experience that I’ll never forget.