Thief, Thief!


Although night-ambush patrols at fire base Patton offered more than enough risk, we soon found there was more to watch out for than just the enemy.  Our squad usually contained eight or nine men, including the squad leader.  As soon as darkness fell we gathered our weapons and headed west across the fields.  The night was pitch-black.  It was so dark that even the starlight scopes could pick up little light to see with.  We stumbled along until we decided we had gone about a quarter-mile.  Then we stopped and set up our ambush.  We settled down behind a convenient rice paddy dike and laid out our weapons and ammo.  Then we set up the schedule of guard watches.  Usually each man watched for one hour, and then woke the next man in line.  Our lives depended on that one man on guard.  The rest of us needed to sleep because we still had our quota of sandbags to fill the next day.

The squad leader took off his watch.  He handed it to the first man in line telling him to pass it along to the next man when his hour was up, and so on down the line.  The rest of us quickly fell asleep.  Still it seemed I had just closed my eyes when I was shaken awake.  It was my turn to watch. I did so until my hour was up, then woke the next man and returned to sleep.  When the dawn came, we gathered our gear and got ready to head back.

The squad leader asked for his watch back - who was last man in line?  We looked around at each other for a moment, but no one spoke.  The watch was gone!  Out in the middle of nowhere, with just the eight of us, someone was dumb enough to think he could steal the watch and sell it to those Vietnamese kids!  The squad leader proceeded to go down the line - "Did you get the watch?" - "Yeah, and I gave it to so-and-so" - "Did you get the watch?" - and so on down the line until one man said "No, he never gave it to me!".  Two men.  That's what it came down to in the end.  Wouldn't the thief have thought of that!  By then we all knew who it was.  Both men were ordered to turn their pockets out, and sure enough, the watch appeared!

No one ever trusted that guy again - on patrol, in combat, or as a friend.  He eventually left our unit and was court-martialed.  Which probably explains where my jungle hat went.  You might recall it disappeared just as we left fire base Keane.   I'd figured the hat was stolen by someone who was staying behind.  It never occurred to me it was coming along with me.  One day on outpost duty, a couple weeks after our "buddy" was taken away, I was sitting under my poncho liner hiding from the sun.  A Vietnamese youth came peddling cokes.  He was wearing a jungle hat - I don't know what sparked my curiosity - perhaps it looked familiar, though anyone who's seen one has seen them all.  I asked him to take it off.  "La dai", I said, motioning him to come closer.  He removed the hat and there on the inside rim was my name.  We had a few words, his in Vietnamese and mine in English, but after a couple of dollars changed hands (a universal language) the hat was mine again.


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Thief, Thief!:  Tales Of A War Far Away
Copyright 1995 Kirk S. Ramsey
Last modified: March 02, 1995