Battle Along the Rio Coco

The echo of the helicopter blades were only a faint memory as the fifteen of us worked deeper into the canyon. It had been less than 10-hours since the three teams had been dropped near the canyons entrance.

Slowly we picked our way through the dense vegetation on the ground. We stayed in the lush green foliage and avoided the open terrain including the river named Rio Coco that wound its way through the jungle.

The Rio Coco was at least half of the demarcation line between the countries of Honduras and El Salvador. It was not known to be a very large body of water in the area that we were operating.

“L-T,” a Lance Corporal said, “I think we’re being trailed.”

The lieutenant had been in the middle of taking a sip of water from his canteen. He quickly replaced in the green holder and got up to talk with the Lance Corporal.

“What makes you think that, Jones?” he asked.

“Its too quiet back there,” Jones replied.

The lieutenant looked in the direction that they had just spent the few hours hiking through. He knew that guerrilla insurgents and drug mules used the same path we were working. He lifted his cover and mopped the sweat from his forehead and cheeks.

“Okay, take Sanchez with you and set up a listening post back around the bend,” he said. “Make certain you have the high ground just in case.”

“Aye-aye,” Jones answered.

I looked on as the pair climbed along the tumbled stones that littered the river’s edge and watched them disappear beyond the bend which moved to the left.

“Saddle up,” the Gunny Sergeant called out.

Some of the men groaned slightly as they hoisted their gear back onto themselves and continued the march into the canyon. I knew it would be a long while before they stopped for another rest.

It was about 90 minutes later when a faint noise came slowly rolling from the sides of the canyon. Though the walls were lined with a think growth of wild shrubbery, underneath it laid a limestone bed. The noise grew closer and quickly.

The radio crackled as Sanchez said, “Bird on your six.”

Within two minutes a small white and red Bell and Howell helicopter raced between the lips of the gorge. It flashed in the sun, which was just to the right of our position. The commercial-looking craft did not slow or stop and if we had been spotted it gave no sign.

The lieutenant signaled for everyone to hold steady in their positions. No one moved knowing that the helicopter might return.

Five minutes later it came speeding by and the lieutenant called for the radio.

“Get command on the horn,” he demanded. A second later he was speaking quietly into the handset.

“It just buzzed us, what do you want us to do?” I over heard him say.

“Roger that,” and the lieutenant handed the handset back to the radio operator.

Then he called out, “Gunny, Doc, Hammer.” Each of us came from different direction at the sound of our names.

Once we were assembled, he said, “We’re heading back to the rendezvous point as soon as the sun sets,” then he added, “We’ll rest here, so set up security.”

Immediately four bodies were sent out to establish make shift listening post behind the unit. Another four were directed to the front of the teams. I double checked that they had enough water in their canteens and gave each an extra salt tablet.

We had another five hours to remain in our present location before the sun went down. I hoped to use some of that time to catch a nap, but only after I checked everyone’s feet for blisters and giving attention to those who had them.

I had just finished lancing and draining the last blister when I heard Sanchez’ voice whispering harshly from the radio set.

“About 30-strong headed your way,” he said.

Suddenly the area was alive with activity as men moved to get to their feet and get their equipment on. It was less than an hour when the listening post in the rear of the unit was engaged in a fire-fight.

Saunders, Williamson and myself, were sent to assist the two men already under fire. I was sent because there could be wounds needing tended too. However we found very little of the two men who had been there.

Using hand gestures, I suggested we fall back into the bushes and find cover. That’s when the rocket-propelled grenade exploded above my head, shattering the trees from the impact, raining wood and leaves down on me.

A thick log had pinned me to the earth and I couldn’t escape, even thought I tried.  I ended up pulling my M-16 close to my body, aiming it at anything I saw moving.

Small arms fire was bursting from my right. I recognized the sound of the M-16 as my two team mates fired into the greenery ahead of them. I also knew the sound of the AK-47 as it chattered and it was coming from my left, very close to my position.

As I struggled to free my lower back and legs from the downed tree, I also took steady aim on the star burst being emitted from the muzzle of the AK-47. I knew that if I fired into the jungle at the muzzle flash and missed, I would give away my position and without any means to escape I concluded I would die.

The AK-47 chattered again, so I squeezed off three rounds. The weapon fell silent. I knew I wasn’t out of harm’s way as there was larger force of soldiers moving all around us.

Laying my rifle down and reached back, I started clawing at the dirt in order to free myself. Meanwhile my two team mates had managed to move towards higher ground and gain a tactical advantage.

Below me was the sound of another fire-fight. I knew from the sound that the rest of the unit was now engaging the 30-man force along the Rio Coco’s edge.

The sound of the battle caused me struggle even harder to get free. I knew that wounded men would soon need my help.

The undergrowth gave away the movements of someone slowly creeping my way. I stopped scooping at the ground and picked up my rifle, aiming in the direction of the sound.

I lowered it when Saunders crashed through the growth and dived next to me.

“You okay?” he asked in a breathless fashion.

“This tree’s got me pinned down,” I answered.

Saunders rolled over and looked the situation over.

“Holy crap!” he exclaimed.

I felt a chill roll through my body at the sound of his voice.

“What’s wrong,” I asked in a near panic.

Saunders lifted on a branch and snapped it off. “Another inch and that would have skewered like a pig on a spit.”

He rocked the log over and it slipped off me and crashed through the underbrush. I was finally free

Now I needed to make my way back to the main fire-fight and where the bulk of the wounded would be. I could hear the sound of rapid fire weapons and the shouts of men in a foreign language I didn’t understand.

They were very close to my position of concealment. So I decided to stop and listen for a minute before heading on.

As soon as they moved away, I weaved my way back up the hillside from where I had just come. Seconds later both Williamson and Saunders came moving into my sight.

When we were together again I said, “I think were behind their main body. Should we jump them or wait?”

“I think we should waste them all,” said Saunders.

Williamson had a look of thoughtfulness on his face, “Let’s scout it out and get closer.”

The three of us split up just far enough from each other to keep one another in sight. We slowly moved down the hillside, towards the sound of men voices.

It took us nearly 10 minutes to scale down the side of the hill. We moved as cautiously as possible to prevent any loose rocks or other debris from rolling down the hillside and giving away our positions.

In the middle position, I found myself stuck about 60 feet above the riverbed and with no safe way to the large rocks below. Saunders and Williamson had ample safety to the riverbed.

Since I was stuck, I looked for a place from which to lay down cover fire. I found a jagged outcropping of rock about eight inches deep in which to hide.

Both Saunders and Williamson were down and moving through the rocky riverbed. Without warning Saunders started firing point-blank at the soldiers firing on their team mates. They were joined by Jones and Sanchez who had double timed it over the rough terrain to help the unit in the fire fight.

Taking a seated position, I fired a burst into a group of men close to where I had last seen the lieutenant. I saw a sudden spray of red leap into the air and I knew I had hit my target.

The battle raged for nearly 45 desperate minutes. It took command that long to send in helicopters to evacuate the three teams. The helicopters door mounted machine guns were a welcomed sight to us.

It was soon discovered that the soldiers, though uniformly dressed, worked for one of the many drug cartels. And the two Marines, who were sent to establish the listening post, were found a week later.

They had been tortured to death and after seeing their fleshless bodies, I decided to always save a bullet for myself.

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No Good Choices

It was about a mile between the apartment I live in on Sutro Street and my workplace, ATC/CitiLift. I walked the distance nearly every morning and evening.

One night I was on my way home when a young woman got out of a car and ran up to me, asking for help. She said she needed protection from her ex-boyfriend who was driving the car.

I had jus’ gotten my first-ever cellular phone, so I dialed 9-1-1 as the man in the car turned the vehicle around and was driving the wrong way on the street.

As he pulled the car to a stop, the woman stepped behind me. It was obvious she was afraid of this guy and soon I was afraid of him too.

The ex-boyfriend got out of the car. He was Samoan, well over six-and-a-half feet tall and easily weighed more than 300 muscular pound.

I said, “Sir, you don’t want to do this—besides I’ve called the cops and they’ll be here in a few seconds.”

He was facing south, so he must have seen the police cruiser as it approached. However he didn’t care what happened as he rushed us.

As ungentlemanly as it may sound, I pushed the woman into the bushes. I then side-stepped his attack, jumping on the back of his right knee, with the hopes of breaking the joint.

It didn’t work. Instead he grabbed my shirt as I passed him.

Luckily, I was able to pop out of it and spin around on him. I tried my best to wrap my left forearm around his neck and lock him in a sleeper-hold, but his neck was too large.

Instead I kicked off his lower back, pushing myself about 15 feet away from where we first made physical contact. He turned around and sped at me like a charging bull.

All I could do was drop down and slam my body into his feet, tripping him to the ground. About that time, three Reno Policemen joined in the fight and subdued him.

After they had him cuffed and in a car, the lead officer came up and berated me saying, “That was a stupid act. He could have seriously hurt you!”

My response was, “Yeah and standing still — could’ve got me killed!”

The Mysterious Pistol

The day before we buried Dad at Fort Gibson, my step-mom Jere’ took me over to visit with my Aunt Beverly. I hadn’t seen her since 1964 when my Grandma Agnes died. 

The last time I had been to her home, the field across the street was completely vacant. I also don’t remember there being any houses on either side of the home. 

That day we played with a mini-camera one of my cousins had ordered from the back of a comic book. I also recall falling in the street while running to the ice-cream truck. 

When we pulled up into the drive, I saw a wooden ramp leading into her house. I was surprised to find Aunt Bev in a wheelchair after having lost her leg in a warehouse accident. 

It was an uncomfortable time as I was trying to deal with the grief of losing my father and trying to sort out some of the tales he had told over the years. One of those tales involved a silver pistol with pearl handle grips. 

Evidently Aunt Bev had given it to Dad to use and she never got it back. I remember an older man, I didn’t know, coming to our home in Klamath asking me about a gun of the same description. 

While I had seen it one time, I lied to him, telling him I have no idea what he was talking about. That was in 1972. 

By the time we ended our visit, Aunt Bev made it known that she wanted that pistol back. Jere’ and I searched through everything Dad had in their home—but no silver pistol with pearl grips. 

Aunt Bev hasn’t spoken or written to me since I reported back to her that the pistol wasn’t found and we used to be in regular contact. I wish I understood why that gun was so important to so many people. 

It’s my guess that it’ll remain an unsolved family mystery.

It’s Fitting

Sleep wasn’t all that great after work. I ended  laying awake talking to God about my health, then I had to get up early in order to take three of the four dogs to the vet for shots.

Right off the bat, Roxy (our pit bull) jerked me off my feet. Luckily I landed in the front yard and was unhurt.

It was my fault as I opened the front door without thinking about her excitement over going “bye-bye.” It pizzed me off none the less.

After spending $195 on the mutts, I came home and had to fight off the urge to pour myself some coffee. While I like coffee, it evidently doesn’t like me.

As proof, I took my blood pressure prior to work and it registered 128 over 86. That’s not bad after yesterday’s reading.

This evening I have a headache brought on by a lack of caffiene. I’m also fasting because of a blood draw at the VAMC in the morning.

Funny how things seem to fit together.

Doctors Note

Went to the doctor and the news isn’t bad but it isn’t great either. 

In a couple days I have to get my blood drawn. My doctor wants to check my cholesterol and to see if I have diabetes.

He also wants to see me back in a month or so to double check my high-blood pressure. It registered 139 over 93, which is four point drop from the last time I saw him. 

I wish I could trade this old body for a newer, healthier body.

Sentimental Lady

She was a freshman while I was senior, but I had a crush on her anyway. I think Leslie (I’ve since forgotten her last name,) figured it out the second time I asked her to dance.

However, she was not interested in me and I knew it at the time, but I was jus’ bold enough to keep asking her to dance. The song I most remember dancing to with her is Bob Welch’s, “Sentimental Lady.”

Why the words to that song seemed to strike a chord with me at the time, I don’t know: “Sentimental gentle wind, blowing through my life again, Sentimental lady, Gentle one.”

However it has stuck with me over the years.

Every time I heard that tune, I remember dancing with Leslie and I get a warm and fuzzy feeling deep inside. I think it’s exactly what a good memory should feel like.

One Confederate Weekend

After a four-hour drive to the small town of McCloud, we found our way into the Union encampment.  It was just before two and the temperature was well into the nineties. We were hot and sweaty and hoping to see members of our group.

Slowly we drove through the rows of tents and parked vehicles, but didn’t see a single person we recognized.  So we stopped at the registration tent and Kyle got out and asked where the Comstock Civil War Reenactors would be setting up. 

They pointed to the area and I drove over to it to wait for someone to show up. It was at this point that I  started to wish I had purchased my own tent. 

But unfortunately I had not and had to rely on the club to bring us one.  Instead we waited for nearly four hours before deciding to go into town to grab a bite to eat.

After eating the two of us decided to visit the sutlers in the historic part of McCloud.  I wanted to purchase a new pair of blue uniform pants anyway.  This also gave us a chance to look for other members of our club.

While paying for my pants, Kyle came up to  me and said, “The Johnson’s are here.  I just ran into Timmy.”   

The Johnson’s were a family that had just joined the group during the summer. Turning I saw Mr. Johnson, the father and husband of the Johnson family. 

He walked over and said, “Hi,” offering a hand as he did. 

We shook hands and the conversation went immediately to the location of other members.

“Their all over on the Confederate side,” he said. 

He explained how he had run into the Captain earlier and that the Captain had told him that in the nine-year of doing Civil war reenacting he had never played a ‘Johnny Reb.’  I felt a sense of shock because I didn’t want to be a rebel and I didn’t have the uniform to play the part either.

Soon after leaving the town site, Kyle and I pulled into the Confederate camp and discovered the Captain sitting under a fly, dressed in a brand new gray uniform. 

“Welcome, boys,” he hollered as he puffed on a long-stemmed pipe. 

In a matter of minutes I discovered further that the Captain had brought some of the groups six-foot tents, but had managed to somehow load only the seven-foot poles. 

I mumbled, “First a Confederate, now no tents.” 

Soon other members of the club managed to find their way over to the encampment, but they were mostly Confederates anyway.  So they were used to being on the side they were on.  They also took pity on me and Kyle and did their best to accommodate and uniform us.

The sun was starting to set when word started to pass that the barbecue dinner that had been planned by the hosting club was no longer going to happen.  Several people grumbled including me, but the complaints fell on deaf ears.  It was the Johnson’s who were kind enough to share their supper of stew, salad and bread with Kyle and me.

By the time supper was finished, it was nearly dark and we headed back to the encampment.  We all joined into the singing at the tent of one of the members until it was necessary to build a campfire.

Kyle and I excused ourselves at that time to complete setting up our sleeping area under a fly that had already been staked out earlier in the day.  We new that it would be a cold night and that before dawn broke, we’d be shivering in our sleeping bags.

When it was time to go to bed, we laid down but the activities in the encampment continued.  There was singing and music playing as a group of reenactors talked and drank, laughing and telling stories about this and that. 

It made falling asleep impossible.

It was long after midnight when the party decided to adjourn for the evening.  The Captain and his bunk mate stumbled through the tents and into the area where we had set up for the night and were now joined by a third person.  The Captain’s bunk mate was loud and continued to talk even after laying down.

The situation grew worse as the bunk mate fell asleep and started swearing as he talked in his sleep.  It took the Captain two attempts to wake him up and make him stop. 

By this time the night sky had started to lighten up and the stars faded.  Soon it would be morning.

Drums and fifes broke the stillness of the morning.  The sun had yet to touch any part of the valley and they were already being called to get up and prepare for the coming day. 

I could hear my son’s teeth as they chattered from the chill of the air.

Kyle rolled over and stood up. “I’m heading to the bathroom,” he said.  Breath smoke slipped from between his bluish lips as he spoke.

By the time he returned, I was sitting up. Kyle sat down next to me, sighed and said, “I didn’t sleep at all last night and now there’s not going to be any breakfast as promised either.”

He sighed again, adding, “I’m starving.”

“Okay, let’s get our crap together and go to town and gets some breakfast,” I responded.

Once in town, we sat and enjoyed a hot breakfast of eggs, potatoes and toast with a couple of cups of coffee to wash it down with and watch the Confederates marching into McCloud to occupy the town.

After breakfast we headed into the town square to meet up with our group. There we milled around, looking at the various items the sutlers had offer.

It was about an hour into this that the general alarm sounded that Union troops were on their way. Soldiers scrambled to grab their picketed arms and form-up.

At first I found my self separated from Kyle. I walked up and down the street where other units were forming and several times I was pushed back and warned not to step into the street by a bellowing soldier.

Shortly before the fighting between the Confederates and the Union ensued I found Kyle. He seemed as confused as me about why we couldn’t find our group.

So we went over and stood at the entrance to the train’s platform waiting for the possibility to get onboard. The Conductor stood at the end of the platform directing passengers to the various cars and where he wanted them to be seated.

It was here that I bumped into Mr. Johnson, who was having the same difficulty as we were. Mr. Johnson decided to speak to the Conductor.

When he came back, he was excited, “I just spoke to the owner. We can get on board now.”

Kyle and I along with the Johnson family lined up. The Conductor directed us to the adjoining car, a flatbed with hay bales for seating and occupied by Union troops. We followed the Conductors instructions.

It was at this flat-car that we encountered a reenactor wearing a Union Major’s uniform. He refused to allow us to board the flat-car.

We decided to go around to the other side of the train and climb aboard.

Once on the other side we scramble aboard the train, having to pull ourselves over the rails since there wasn’t a ramp or steps. I was the last to get on board when I heard the Major yelling at us.

“You can’t be on my train!” he shouted, continuing to using profanity.

Being in the process of sitting down, I was ready to ignore the Major, but his foul mouth left me in a state of anger. I pulled off my satchel and undid my belt, then removed my bear-claw necklace.

I then stood on a bale of hay and shouted at the Major, “Come over here and say that to my face and I’ll show you what’s real and what’s fake!”

It didn’t take long for the Major and two soldiers to come down to our side of the flatbed and order me, my son and the Johnson’s to get off his train immediately.

“I can’t have civilian’s riding a troop train!” he shouted.

“You idiot!” I replied, “We’re all civilians, including you! And we’re all reenactors!”

“Well, I can’t have you riding my train!” he shot back.

I shook my head sideways, “It’s not your train!”

The Conductor, who was standing there, finally said, “Hey, we gotta get going. Sorry.”

It was evident that he was taking the Major’s side in the argument.

As I disembarked, I looked at the larger of the two men and replied, “That’s right, keep yourself between me and that Major.”

I grinned and looked from him to the shorter, harder man’s deep-set, blue eyes as the taller one asked, “Did you just threaten our Major?’

“Make of it what you will,” I answered.

I never took my eyes from Blue-eyes; rather I continued to stare and grin at him slightly.

“Want us to call the cops?” Tall man hissed, “We can have you tossed outta here.”

I didn’t bat an eye as I answered, “Do what you want.”

Blue-eyes finally blinked and called me, “Punk.”

He stepped back several steps before turning away. I stood there and watched as they stumbled over the loose rocks trying to catch up to the Major who was escorting the Johnson family around to the front of the train.

I wanted to pick up a rock and toss it at one of them but instead I shouted, “Hey fellas, thanks for playing!”

Then I lifted my kilt, exposing my backside at the two thugs. That was followed by a great round of applause and laughter and three thundering cheers of, “Zoo-ha, zoo-ha, zoo-ha.”

“Come on, Dad,” Kyle said, “Let’s get out of here.”

We turned and walked down the length of the train in the opposite direction. Neither one of us looked back as the whistle sounded and the steam locomotive pulled from the station.

“Hey,” came a voice from behind us.

I turned to see a man dressed in period-clothing, carrying a hand-held radio.

The man asked, “What happened back there?”

I explained how Mr. Johnson had spoken to the owner and was told he could get on the train and that the Major kicked us off the flatbed.

Then the man surprised me by saying, “I’m the owner of the train.”

At first I was slightly confused as he was not the same man who had identified himself as the owner earlier. I suddenly realized why the Conductor had so willingly given into the Major.

In the end, the real train-owner offered Kyle and me an apology for the screw up. I also apologized to him for having lost my temper and acted so poorly in front of not only his guests but also his employees.

Once in the truck I looked at Kyle and said, “I’m sorry for embarrassing you with my bad temper and ruining this weekend, son.”

Kyle smiled at me and replied, “You didn’t embarrass me or ruin my weekend. Being a damned Confederate soldier overnight did that. Now let’s go home.”