I.In the long history of the place there had been only
one problem: it required a steep climb up the river bank to the warm,
fine sand above.
It was difficult, but the reward was worth the terrible, clumsy effort
it exacted from them all. Their condition and the urgency of matters
often turn this part of the journey into a frantic last effort. But
there were never any thoughts of failure or of turning back. This journey
was essential, unavoidable ... destiny. For only in the sands of their
history could be done what must be done as it had always been done.
They found the warmth and softness of this final destination, and its
relative safety and isolation, to be incomparable. The sun seemed to
soak deeper, the soft sands seemed to caress and soothe more intimately;
it was these sensations, so comtorting and reassuring that drew them,
and always would draw them, to this location.
The stitched-on twin silver lapel bars
gleamed in the past-midnight moonlight. The well-oiled rifle in his
hands felt reassuring.
It wasn't really necessary that the commanding officer carry such a
weapon, but James Brent just liked to do it. As he walked around
mobile base in the starry night of Vietnam, he was actually happy and
contented. Some soldiers longed for home, but not Lieutenant Brent.
He had come to Vietnam from his desk at the Bureau of Naval Personnel,
in fact he had written his own combat orders. After reading endless
citations of heroism and bravery under fire and watching the promotions
and the accalades that came from "in country" service, he
had decided the time was ripe in the waning years of the conflict to
get a "combat tour" under his career belt. So, here he was,
tonight, in command of Mobile Base One, and six divisions of river boats
and hundreds of combat sailors. Lt. Brent was feeling pretty good. He
had already awarded himself a Purple Heart, although the men on the
boat were furious about it. At the first sign of incoming fire, Lt.
Brent had put his helmet on backwards, tripped over the engine covers
and broken his nose in the resulting fall. But, he knew the definitions,
and it was an injuring sustained in combat, so there it was in his service
jacket, now and forever. In twenty years, who would quibble about how
he got it? "The perogatives of command," he thought.
LTJG Mike Kelly had his feet propped up on the desk in front of him, his hands behind head, and his arms relaxed as he leaned back. He was the Combat Control Center duty officer and as usual he was alone in the middle of the night. He and the base Commander, Lt. Brent did not get along at all. Mike knew it was bad for his career, but it couldn't be helped. The guy was a phoney, especially compared to the man he relieved. This situation resulted in LTJG Kelly getting this job night after night as punishment, but he didn't mind at all. Out on the river during the day, in ComCon all night, he was busy and informed. "What the hell," he thought, "at least I'm not drinking every night." Many of the officers and men did get drunk every night on the five cent shots of had liquour the government made available. He could easily have fallen into that routine, but this was better. The codes were all in order, the "shack" as they called it was clean and squared away. Any radio communications were handled instantly and efficiently. It was a good job, and he was handling it very well. Any time something came up, he contacted the Commander right away. Waking up Lt. Brent was a special extra benefit of the position. The Commander liked his sleep.