The Last Firebase

A Vietnam War horror story. Bit of a clunky outline form. Seems like there’s something there after a re-read.

The Last Firebase

  • A platoon of battle hardened grunts march out from their firebase and head deep in the jungle.  

  • They patrol the region and encounter no resistance until they enter a small village.  They dispatch the VC and force the villagers out into the jungle as they torch the buildings and blow up the tunnels underneath.

  • Arriving at the extraction point Lt. Simmons raises their pickup on the radio.  The pilot says they cannot extract now and head to the secondary extraction site.  The LT finds out the base is under heavy attack and all choppers were providing fire support for the soldiers there.

  • En route to the site they encounter NVA regulars.  Sgt. Miller is concerned at the appearance of regulars so far south.  After a brief but viscous firefight the NVA patrol is defeated with one prisoner captured.  He sneers at the Americans and says that they will be repaid for their evil and that North Vietnam bows to no colonial power.

  • Arriving at the secondary site with prisoner in tow LT raises the firebase command post on the radio requesting extraction.  Colonel Johnson tells him extraction is impossible that all of the choppers have been taken out by a massive assault and that the firebase had briefly been overrun until they had taken it back.  “Simmons, you and your men are just going to have to hump it. And keep that prisoner alive, we took a beating and I want to know why and how the NVA were able to surprise us like this—if your gook has any intel I want it.  We’ll be cleaning up fucking bodies for a goddamn month around here!”

  • Grudgingly the platoon hikes towards the firebase.  After a week in the bush they begin to draw near the valley that the firebase overlooks.  Simmons and Miller note that the glow of lights is not visible at the base across the valley and comment that the Colonel must still be accepting trouble.  One more day across the valley and ascend the mountain the following morning for the final approach to the base

  • The platoon encounters a platoon size group of NVA corpses.  They were not killed in battle, but had killed themselves. It seems the animals have gotten to them.  Tran is extremely nervous.

  • One of the NVA begins to move.  The medic glances at him and shakes his head.  “He’s wounded too badly to help. Jesus, he’s already eaten up with jungle rot.”  One of the GIs removes his canteen and bends down the injured man. He tries to pour some water in his mouth.  Tran yells and tries to stop him. LT restrains Tran and is shocked that he can speak English. The wounded NVA takes a bite out of the soldiers arm.  “Goddamn it!” he yells as he shoots the wounded man in the head. “Fucking gook was still trying to fight even though his war was over. Mother fucker.  Doc, can you patch this up? Hurts like hell.”

  • That evening Simmons tries to check in with the base.  There is no response. They blame the overgrowth of the jungle and cheapness of the radios.  Sentries raise the alarm twice through the night. Someone seems to be moving just beyond the reach of the claymores.  No sign of anything come dawn.

  • The approach to the base is as though the grunts are walking through a nightmare.  The trees are blasted to splinters some entirely uprooted by artillery strikes and bomb runs.  The top third of the mountain is covered with bodies. Thousand upon thousand lay facing the firebase on all sides.  Smoke rolls off of ruined helicopters and buildings within the wire and without. The soldiers trudge on in absolute shock.  Tran begins shuddering and gibbering.  

  • Miller walks up to Simmons, “Jesus L.T. this wasn’t a simple attack by a regiment.  This had to be a whole division, maybe two if the other slope looks the same way.” Simmons replies, “Fuck I know.  The Old Man said they had been overrun and retaken the base, but I don’t see how that could have happened. Unless there was a second wave after I spoke to him.”

  • A hoot surprises the men and Pfc. Philips is smiling jubilantly as he points to the command post and the U.S. flag that still flies above it.  Miller slaps Simmons on the shoulder, “Hot damn! Looks like you’ll be able to ask him yourself!” and begins jogging towards the summit.

  • The soldiers approach the wire ill at ease.  Lt. Simmons begins signaling the platoon by hand when they are not challenged by sentries.  You can hear the soldiers click the safeties on their weapons as they warily watch all around them.

  • As they enter the firebase they see a handful of corpses.  Surrounding one of the Quonset huts is a group of three dead US soldiers.  Sporadic rifle fire bursts from the hut and wounds one of Simmons’ men. Simmons barks a couple of orders.  Major Hawkins yells out from the hut. “Identify yourselves if you can speak!” “Lt. Simmons and 2nd Platoon sir!”  The Major comes out of the hut swearing.  “I’m sorry, damn, I’m sorry.” The major looks around at the full strength platoon and looks at Simmons.  He grins broadly, “Welcome back to Firebase Johnson!” Simmons asks “Firebase Johnson sir?” “I figured I’d redesignate it after its fallen commander.”

  • Inside the CP the soldiers quickly put it back into order.  Philips tries to raise someone on the radio. “Only thing out there are ghosts son.”  Simmons and the others look to the major. Before we were overrun we were able to pick up a lot of traffic on the radio.  We’re the last firebase. Every single firebase north of Da Nang has fallen. The Marines at Da Nang are having a hell of a time holding out; that is if they are still holding out at all.” Hawkins looks around.  “Does anyone have any water?” Simmons hands Hawkins his canteen. “Is this from the field?” Simmons nods, “It’s purified.” Hawkins nods and drinks deeply. “Good. Goddamn gooks poisoned our water the last time they overran us.”  “What happened here sir?” “First things first. What strength is your platoon?” “6 full squads sir, no casualties save the one you clipped.” “Excellent. Pull back some of the sandbags and mortars and fortify the area immediately around the CP.  Establish a tight perimeter and I want claymores tripled and 360 around here. I’ll brief you and your platoon sergeant and you can filter it down.”

  • “The NVA just poured out of the mountains.  No one knows how the fuck they got past the DMZ, but they are here none the less.  The radio has gone silent so I can only assume that we are now the only firebase left north of Da Nang.  Everyone was getting hit, from Khe San on south. It wasn’t a recon either, a fully coordinated assault, it’s massive.  Westmoreland needs his ass cashiered for this one. Since the artillerists are gone and the magazine was blown, we are no longer operating as a fire support base.  As far as I’m concerned we are now the only defense left for the Republic of South Vietnam and we’ll defend them against all enemies.” “Sir?” “What is it Simmons?”  “That won’t sit real well with the men.” “Fuck ‘em. But if it helps then tell them we’ll just hold here until we can evac and let Airmobile rebuild this place. Tell them whatever the fuck you want.”  “Yes sir.” “We also have another problem.” “Sir?” “You may have noticed the lack of American boys laying dead out there. There are some but not a battalion’s worth.” “Yes sir. I figured they didi’d.”  “You thought wrong son. They died. Every last one of them died and hard too.” Simmons “There were a lot of NVA out there. It must have been hard.” Hawkins snaps, “It wasn’t’ just the Goddamned gooks!” Hawkins begins cackling and laughing until he coughs while staring at Simmons and Miller.  He is clearly mad. Sobering he continues “We were able to retake the base. Hell we had two batteries of tubes pounding the hell out of the mountains and the battalion was at damn near 70% strength after we retook it. We didn’t get wiped by the gooks. We were able to fall back in order and regroup.  It started in the aid station. First just one but then the numbers kept growing. Wounded men were dying there you see. Then one of them moved.” “Sir?” “Moved damn it. He wasn’t dead, but he wasn’t himself. The medics restrained him. Then it happened again and again. If I’d known then I would have gone in there myself and put them out of their goddamn misery.  But we thought they were just in shock. By the time we realized something was going on there was nothing we could do. It was in the water and many had drunk it. I didn’t and several other patrols that had returned, like yours but unluckier. Maybe luckier depending how you look it, fuck I don’t know.” “How did you manage to not drink the water?” The Major waves his flask at the LT.  Those who drank went down much slower, but they still ended up in the aid station and eventually died. But then they came back. One of the restrained men broke free. He tore apart a medic with his bare hands and teeth. Then the medic did the same thing to someone else soon after. It just kept getting worse and worse.” Hesitantly “The NVA?” “I’m fairly sure. This shit didn’t start until after we had retaken the base.”  “No sir, what about all the Vietnamese out there? Will they get up?” Hawkins shrugs, “Don’t know, they haven’t yet. No one who died on the wire or at the trenches got back up.” “Then where are our dead sir?” Hawkins loses it. “Don’t fucking ask me that? Alright. Fuck I don’t know.” Pacing “What the fuck was I supposed to do. The Quartermaster stores were destroyed when the magazine blew. I ate all the MREs I could find.  All of them. Fuck Simmons you guys were out there for three weeks. I had a war to fight goddamn it.” “Major Hawkins, sir? What are you…” Hawkins screaming “I’m not about to eat a fucking filthy goddamn gook Simmons. You want to eat a gook you go the fuck ahead. I know our boys are clean, who knows what diseases those fuckers out there have.”

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