This is the continuation of the story of Steve A. and his days in the Vietnam War. This is a true story as told to the Editor of East coast stories. If you missed Part One just click the link.
Day 47 – The Tower
It was my 47th day in Vietnam that I was sent to the top of The Tower. I know what day it was, since like every other soldier in Vietnam I counted the number of days I had been there so I could figure out how long before I could go home. The best part of any day was when I could go to sleep, since it meant that when I woke up it was one less day before I could go home. The officers pretended they did not count the days, but we all knew they did.
I got sent North. Further North than I had even been before and that was a bad thing. The further North you went the stronger the enemy positions. I had never heard of any towers, then suddenly I was told to man one.
The towers were sort of like fortified Forest Fire Ranger stations like they have in the Northwest of the U.S. They were built so that we could get above the canopy of the jungle and observe what was going on.
Late one afternoon I was told to climb the ladder to the top of one of the towers. In the tower was a powerful pair of binoculars and a phone that directly linked to an officer on the ground. My job was to watch for and report any enemy movement.
For most of the past 47 days I had been in the sweltering jungle, and it was an amazing feeling of freedom when I climbed up the ladder and through the canopy of the jungle. There I was above everything. I could see for miles and miles in every direction. It was like I had suddenly escaped the war by climbing out over the top of it.
Then I began to get scared. I got the feeling that I was a sitting duck for any VC or NVA on the ground. There was some armor plating in the tower, but I was worried a sniper on the ground would be able to get me.
I crouched low and scanned with the binoculars. I could see that about 10 kilcks to the West was another tower. Far away to the North was something else that looked like a tower but I could not be sure. Later another guy told me that was the North Vietnamese tower but that the U.S would not bomb it because it was further into North Vietnam than they were allowed to bomb. By this point in the war however, I stopped believing every rumor. It might have been an enemy tower. It might have just been a big tree.
For three days my job was the same routine. When my turn came I climbed up into the tower in the late afternoon and stood watch through most of the night until I was relieved. There was a young Lieutenant who would call on the phone to test it and ask if I spotted any activity. The answer was always no. Nothing was going on.
The one night all Hell broke loose. There was a bright flash to the West and the sound of lots of automatic gunfire. Three seconds after the flash my tower phone rang. It was the young Lieutenant.
“What do you see?”
“Sir it looks like the West tower is being attacked.”
“Anything near us?”
“No Sir. Nothing that I can see.”
I put down the phone scanned everything around our tower. Then the phone rand again.
“Anything going on near us?”
I put down the phone again and 15 seconds later it rang. The Lieutenant asked the same question and got the same answer. This happened five time in a row. On the sixth call when the Lieutenant asked his question I screamed into the phone, “Look Lieutenant, if I see anything, you’re going to be the first God-damned person I call!” Then I slammed down the phone.
I watched throughout the night as we all waited for our position to get attacked just like the tower to the West. But nothing happened. We were all petrified.
In the morning when I climbed down the ladder the Lieutenant did not say anything. He could have had me court marshaled for insubordination, but he let it slide.
I had not thought about my nights in the tower in many years, until I saw an item on the T.V.news. It was about all the American tourists who go to Vietnam these days. For some extra money they can visit items left over from the war. One of the things they can do is climb the few remaining American observations towers.
The T.V camera showed a view from the top of the tower and that brought back old memories. There was the old fear and tension that we might be attacked. But there was also the feeling of that first wonderful moment when I climbed through the top of the jungle and actually thought I had climbed out of the war.