Chapter 4 The Strafing of Grommett
When godless atheists attacked the Field Grade compound, an assault that brought on Operation Ballpeen Duck and saved Danang temporarily for democracy, General Grommett was swimming in the pool by the bar. He swam daily to keep fit. The keys to becoming Chairman of the JCS were not making enemies, caring for the common soldier, and Looking Every Inch a General. No one with a pot belly had ever become chief of staff. On the other hand, many whose only qualification was a flat stomach had.
However, other problems presented themselves. Third Tracs had been hit several times recently by the VC. There was this nonsense about invisible airplanes. He would have to think about these things.
Just before the onslaught began, General Grommett poised himself for a dramatic moment on the end of the diving board, maneuvered his toes over the edge for a better grip, and looked around with an air of command. He assumed his air of command by poking his chest out, slightly elevating his chin, and frowning.
“Alley oop,” he said to himself, sprang lightly into the air and cut the water with a clean scloop.
Several colonels idly watched him and sipped drinks brought by scurrying Vietnamese waitresses in PX uniforms. They always watched him because of the curious expression he assumed before diving. Some thought he might be having a minor stroke, but others insisted it was impossible to have so many minor strokes in a row, and that the general must have some sort of neck trouble. Another school held that he had an intermittent form of Parkinson’s disease, but they were held to be extremists.
He swam to the end of the pool with graceful strokes that displayed his athletic nature and….
Suddenly a sharp crack-crack-crack shattered his reverie. A row of bright orange flashes appeared magically across the compound, tearing deep holes in the concrete. Shrapnel whizzed viciously through the air. Colonels dived for the deck and waitresses screamed. General Grommett hugged the earth and low-crawled toward a row of sandbags for partial protection. Jesus, he thought, it’s true. We’ve been strafed—but there were no aircraft.
High over Monkey Mountain an airplane spun out of control and plummeted toward the earth, its cockpit shattered by a well-aimed burst of twenty mike-mike. The dying pilot clutched the stick with weakening hands, realizing in his final moments that he had met his match in a simple American crop-duster. It was Colonel Togo Fuji….
Half an hour later, the strafing apparently over, General Grommett retired to a chaise longue with what he hoped was a fine display of insouciance under fire. “Waxer!” he bellowed.
Colonel Waxer jumped up and hurried over. “Yessir?”
General Grommett signed to his favorite waitress for his customary drink, gin and tonic with double lemon, and said to Colonel Waxer, “Danang is in danger.”
“Yessir?” said Colonel Waxer, wondering what the general meant. There hadn’t been much action near Danang for some time, except the recurrent attacks on the amtrac compound. No matter how much Colonel Waxer strengthened the forces around Third Tracs, the VC always got through. It disturbed him.
“Colonel,” General Grommett whispered, leaning forward, “The communists are gathering their strength to deliver us a Big Blow. They are getting ready to capture Danang. If they succeed, it will be a Kick in the Balls for the war. All the forces of treason and godless atheism in Congress will demand that we pull out of Vietnam. We’ll have to lower our quotas of artillery shells. We’ll be driven out of Asia, step by step, as the communist hordes sweep across Southeast Asia like a cancerous malignancy.”
General Grommett’s voice dropped another couple of decibels. “Have you looked at the map?”
“Yessir.” Actually Colonel Waxer hadn’t. For the first few months of his tour he had tried, but nothing on the map seemed to have any relation to what was actually out there on the ground. Finally he had given up on maps.
General Grommett said, “You have been here less time than I have. When you spend enough time in war, you develop a sense for it, an intuition.”
“The Vietcong battalions are drawing closer to the city. Constantly they tighten the ring—but they don’t attack. They’re keeping inconspicuous. Why?”
“Except for the amtrac compound. They have now hit the tracs eleven times in five weeks. Charlie is making a determined effort, for devious reasons only the communist mentality can fathom, to eliminate that one compound. Why?”
“What makes the tracs so important to them?”
“Then come the invisible airplanes. Who knows what fiendish technology Ivan has given Charlie? Why are the invisible airplanes only at Danang?”
He pondered the inscrutable communist mind for a moment.
“They’re concentrating. Quietly, to lull us into a false sense of security. We’ve got to hit them first, break up their forces. I want you to draw up plans for a big op, search and destroy, to Au Phuc Dup Hamlet. We’ve got to clean them out, stop the infection from spreading.”
General Grommett waited for Colonel Waxer to say “Yessir,” which seemed to be the only thing he knew how to say.
“Goddamit, can you say anything except Yessir?”
“Well, do it.”
General Grommett frowned. Colonel Waxer was hard to talk to. It was like talking to himself. He sipped his gin-and-tonic and thought about the operation to Au Phuc Dup. Here was a chance to shine. It would be a division-strength operation, he decided, with tanks and amtracs and every available helicopter, heavy artillery preparation, and maybe even naval gunfire. No, that was a bad idea. The Navy would try to steal his show.
The prospects for his image were very good, he decided. With a little luck, operation Ballpeen Duck would be the biggest military operation since the Inchon Landing. It would route the massive forces the communists were obviously collecting, and save Danang. And he would command it.