“The troop was at Quan Loi, northwest of Saigon, in 1969.
The terrain was different from the Hiep Duc-Que Son Valley area. The war was different now. Here were dense, lowland jungles, occasionally broken by the straight rows of rubber plantations. The most dangerous assignment in the troop was now the Scouts. They cruised along at treetop level, looking for targets and being targets.
Mr. Murray was a slightly built scout pilot with a thin mustache and the kind of swagger I have since seen only among the Irish street kids of Boston. He was damned good and he knew it.
He was the only scout pilot that the Blue Platoon ever got close to. We were often sent out to bring back the bodies of the Scouts, and didn’t particularly want to know them first. But Mr. Murray was different. He survived. He was a special pilot that every scout gunner wanted to fly with, because he was the lucky one that would bring them home after each mission.
As time went by, other scout pilots would last a day or a week or a month, but Mr. Murray kept flying. The Blues began to regard him as a good-luck charm and, the rarest of things, began to talk to him. He was different—a philosopher who thought about history and astronomy and the reasons that things had to be the way they were. We could talk to him about any subject and he would listen and give us an answer. The officer-enlisted man gap suddenly didn’t exist. I still remember his favorite song, “Scarborough Fair.”
“Doc told me that some of the old Blues had gone home, and others had been hit in an ambush on May thirty-first. The Blues had made landings around Khe San in March, but most of the NVA had fled before the Cav arrived. The troop had also been the first Americans into the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp, which had been overrun by NVA tanks in February. Doc said that Khe San had looked like a huge garbage dump after the siege, filled with trash and demoralized, shell-shocked Marines. He said the way you could spot the newly arrived cavalrymen at Khe San was the way they behaved during rocket attacks. The cavalrymen would wait for the black explosions and take pictures. The Marines would dive for the nearest foxhole or ditch.”
“The scouts were enjoying “good hunting.” The Communist divisions were massing southwest of Saigon for another Tet offensive, but this time the big bombers would crush them before they left their jungle camps. One morning a scout chopper surprised a long column of NVA coming out of the jungle, walking along a streambed , and re-entering the jungle further ahead. The LOH hovered over the streambed and the gunner shot a number of NVA, he wasn’t sure how many. Then the little chopper landed while the gunner loaded aboard a 57mm recoilless rifle, a .30 caliber machine gun, and some rifles.
They were put on display at Quan Loi. I was looking at the weapons when Bolten walked up. It was the first time I had seen him at close range in twelve months, and he looked ten years older.
He looked fondly at the trophies. “Aren’t they something, Sarge?”
“Yeah. Did you have anything to do with getting them?”
“Of course. The gooks never knew what hit them.” He had made the proper impression, so he turned to leave.
“Bolten? Can I talk to you a minute?”
He looked like a caged cat. “Why?”
“You’ve been here a long time. You know, the first time I ever saw you was the day you killed that tax collector near Bong Son.”
“I remember. He was my first gook. The lieutenant kept the money for the squadron orphanage, right?”
“Right. I know it’s none of my business, but what I was wondering is, are you ever going home?”
I got a quick answer. “No! The Cav’s my home. I don’t want to leave.”
Photo Globe&Mail. Quotations Matthew Brennan. “Headhunters” and “Brennan’s War”
Now stop all this foolishness and get some rest