Au Phuc Dup & Nowhere to Go–Chapter 9

Chapter 9 Grommett on Duty

General Grommett squinted and twitched his face to the left, the effect again being that of a man having an embolism. He was working on a new soldierly scowl. He thought it expressed a more intense resolve than his old scowl, while hinting at wellsprings of compassion for the common soldier. He hoped it spoke of keen intelligence behind the steel of his exterior. He had heard that this year intelligence was considered a decisive factor in the choice of a Chief of Staff. The bureaucrats at Defense were always toying with new ideas instead of heeding the hard-earned lessons of the past.

He sat up straight behind his forward line of props. These consisted of a teakwood swagger stick with his name in gold leaf, and a cigarette lighter made from a WWII grenade. There was also a coffee cup made from an empty C-ration can with an expended fifty-caliber round for a handle. He thought it expressed his closeness to the troops. Behind were his rear line of props, including various diplomas from staff schools and a captured VC battle flag made by the VC and sold to American troops to make money to finance their operations.

General Grommett lifted his chin slightly for a look of command, pulled his silvering eyebrows together in his mahogany face, and pursed his lips. Yes, he thought to himself, the new scowl would do nicely.

Furtively he slipped his right hand inside his uniform jacket. He rather thought it made him look like Curtis LeMay. Cronkite was coming to Danang shortly, and General Grommett wanted the visit to be a Shot in the Arm for his image. The way things were going, he needed one. Those damned invisible airplanes were giving him hives.

The door opened. Colonel Walther stormed dynamically into his office and yelled, “Don’t!”

After a second he added “Sir.”

“Don’t what?” asked General Grommett, who had been too engrossed in the new scowl to notice Walther’s entrance.

“Spit, sir. You looked as if you were going to spit. I thought it might mess up your papers or something.”

“Colonel Walther, who are you to tell your commanding officer when he may and may not spit?”

“Yessir. I’m sorry sir. I spoke without thinking. I’ll wait.”

“For what?”

“For you to spit, sir.”

General Grommett was nonplussed. He didn’t want to spit on his desk. At least, he didn’t think he did. Yet somehow he felt trapped into it. Finally he hedged.

“I’m not going to spit now. But as soon as you leave, I am going to spit. I want you to know that. Right on my desk.”


“Now what the hell do you want?”

“I don’t know, sir. You called me.”

General Grommett thought. “Oh, so I did…Oh, it’s this. There’s been another attack on Third Tracs. Same as the last one. From the sound of it, Charlie’s brought in a reinforced battalion. Heavy fighting all around the perimeter, and the only thing that saved the position was gunships. Intel doesn’t know why they keep concentrating on Third Tracs, but, goddamit, if they overrun them, right outside Danang, you know what the papers will say.”

“Yessir. The commies. What kind of body count did we get?”

“Zero, Bill,” said General Grommett, unbending a little. “You know how Charlie is. Drags away his dead. He does it to hurt our image, to make us look unsuccessful. They must have lost heavily in a firefight of that size, but Orientals don’t respect human life.”

“The immoral yellow bastards.”

“They’re all godless atheists, Bill. If you don’t believe in The Man Upstairs, you don’t care who you kill. It’s the Almighty who makes the United States strong, who guides our bombs to their targets. That’s the lesson for Americans to learn,” said General Grommett, grabbing a new sheaf of papers. “Intel, Bill. Look at this. Look here—infiltration routes, suspected enemy concentrations, and probable attacks.”

He was almost whispering. “See the pattern?”

“Nossir,” said Colonel Walther truthfully.

“They’re converging on Au Phuc Dup. Once you see that, it all makes sense. They want to take out our armor, so they’ll have a clear shot at Danang, and take the hamlet just when Cronkite gets here. Can you imagine the devastating effect on American public opinion? Insidious, isn’t it?”

Colonel Walther slowly raised his face as the light dawned. “And, Colonel, where have the invisible airplanes been sighted?”

Colonel Walther’s fingers drummed excitedly on the table. The logic was inescapable.

“Right …over…Au Phuc Dup.”

Why, wondered Colonel Walther, hadn’t he thought of it?

“Now, what we have to do, Bill, is beat them to the punch. I want a major sweep run through there next month, and we’ll clean them out. A big victory just when Cronkite gets here. Two can play that game, eh, Colonel?”

Chapter 10  | Table of Contents

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