8: Deep Water Piers
<< 7: Camp TIEN SHA || 9: The Monsoon >>
I scarfed down my food and went straight to the master-at-arms office. The assignment postings were on the bulletin board. I walked up, looked at the listings and quickly found my name. When I saw it, my face got flushed, the hair stood up on the back of my neck and my heart felt like it was about to pound out of my chest.
GMGSN Robert J. Powers, Jr. Freight Terminal Division Deep Water Piers
The next step in the process was to check out of transient barracks and into the quarters provided for Deep Water Pier personnel. I was instructed to keep my linen issue and was given a map directing me to a barrack that housed DWP hatch team members. The barrack was just a short walk from transient quarters.
At the far end of the barrack there was a master-at-arms office. I reported to the E-6 on duty there. He looked at my paperwork, then he got up and motioned for me to follow him. When we got to the far end of the barrack, he stopped.
“All right sailor, listen up.
“There are sixteen Navy hatch teams working at the piers. At any given time, eight work nights and eight work days. At the end of each month, the teams working nights rotate to days and the day teams rotate to nights. That way, nobody has to suffer through the daytime temperatures for more than thirty days at a stretch. When the rotations occur, the teams going from nights to days do a double shift - 24 straight. That way, the guys going from days to nights get a rest. They get 24 off! Straight!
“There are other hatch teams working at the piers. There are three Vietnamese male teams and three Vietnamese female teams. There are also three Korean teams. The Vietnamese and the Koreans are all civilians. The Koreans are all male; they work for a private civilian contractor. He gets paid by the ton, but he pays his workers by the hour. The more tons they move, the more he makes. What he pays them in salary every month is pretty much the same. So the more good months he has, the richer he gets.
“All the teams work 12-hour days and all work seven days a week. The only shot you have at an extra day off is if you’re on the U.S. team that unloads the most tonnage in a month on day shift. That team gets an additional 24 hours off and the other teams divide up and do a double gang - working their hole - on their first full day of rotation to nights. Accord-ingly, the competition to move the most tons is fierce. The teams all bust their asses to get enough tonnage to earn that extra 24 off.
“You’re starting out on day shift. This end of the barrack houses guys working days right now. Pick out a berthing area and go in and find an empty bunk and a locker; then make your bunk and stow your gear.
“In the morning, cattle cars will be waiting to pick you up on the side street just outside the barrack here. They usually arrive at about 6:30. They depart promptly at 6:45. If you miss your ride your ass’ll belong to the bosun at the piers. He’s a W-4 warrant and he don’t play! Miss your ride and you won’t be facing a mast, you’ll get a full-blown courts martial. You’ll do hard time in the brig, a minimum of a month, and the brig here in Nam ain’t nowhere you wanna be. You got me?”
“One last thing.”
He handed me a piece of paper with an address typed on it.
“Your permanent mailing address is Box 76-B, 1st. Division, N.S.A. DaNang, F.P.O. San Francisco, California, 96695. Your name and service number should always be included - at the top - with the address following both - just like on the paper there. Any questions?”
“Then lay to.”
“Fuck that thanks shit. It don’t mean nothin’.”
He turned and walked back to his office.
I had never been more homesick in my life. What-in-the-hell had I gotten myself into?
There were eight entrances to the barrack. The building had been divided into eight berthing areas. I entered the first area, the one nearest the main entrance to the camp, made my bunk, stowed my gear, and spent most of the rest of the day just sitting on the stoop outside the barrack.
At around four in the afternoon I decided to go back over to transient barracks and find out where Jimmy and Earles had been assigned. I went straight to the bulletin board to find their names and assignments. The assignment sheet had already been taken down and all the bunks in the transient barracks were empty. I made an attempt to find out where they’d been sent at the master-at-arms office. But the duty clerk there let me know in no uncertain terms that he didn’t have time to look up previously published assignment orders. I never found out where they’d been sent.
By supper time I was a nervous wreck. I’d just lost contact with the only two friends I had in-country. That, and the anticipation of what the next twelve months would be like, working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, was quickly breaking my spirit.
I went to supper sometime around 6:30. I got back to the barracks around 7:15. I sat back down on the stoop and lit a cigarette. Just a moment or two later the cattle cars came rolling up the side street by the barrack. When they stopped, members of the day crew from Deep Water Piers came lumbering off at a slow, exhausted gait. In twos and threes they made their way to the barrack. Some just made it as far as the stoop. They took off their hard hats, unbuttoned their shirts, leaned back and collapsed in a lying position on the stoop with their feet still planted on the ground. Others made their way into the first four berthing areas and collapsed, fully clothed, onto their bunks. A few undressed, grabbed a towel and their toilet articles and headed for the showers. But only a few.
Over the course of the next hour all of them had managed to recover enough to take a shower. Again, in twos and threes over that one hour period, they’d shower, get dressed, and lumber like zombies to the chow hall for supper. By 8:45 they were all in the rack, and by 9 they were all asleep. I got in the bed when they did, but sleep wouldn’t come. I tossed and turned for what seemed like an eternity, and finally, sometime around midnight, I drifted off.
At 5:30 the following morning I was awakened by the buzz of an alarm clock. Slowly, and with a great measure of effort, some of the men began to force themselves to get up. Most remained in their bunks, still asleep. Those that did get up slowly got dressed, donned their hard hats and began a slow, labored walk to the chow hall. I hurried into a set of utilities and followed them.
I got to the chow hall at about 5:45. The place was about a quarter full and the line was relatively short. I figured I was going to need all the nourishment I could get, so I loaded down my tray with a little bit of everything. I sat down with some of the guys from the barrack. They totally ignored me, but I don’t think it was intentional. They didn’t seem to be paying much attention to each other, either. They just sat there eating, heads leaning forward; eyes shut; like they were still half-asleep. They looked exhausted. When they did open their eyes there was a blank stare. And they were all so pale. I hadn’t really noticed how pale they were the evening before. But here, in the flourescent light in the chow hall, you could really see it. Pale may not be the right word; the way they looked is hard to explain. Maybe ‘ill’ would be a better word. The look certainly had nothing to do with skin tone; they all had tans that would make a California surfer envious. Maybe ‘sick’ would best describe it. They all looked sick; but not physically sick. I’d seen that look before ... on the faces of my classmates in BUDS training.
I finished eating. I waited for the first of the pier guys to leave and I followed them out. They slowly made their way back to the barrack. The cattle cars were already there. No one got on the cars right away. Some lit cigarettes, sat on the ground and leaned against the white picket fence. Others just lay on the ground. A few just leaned up against the cattle cars. At about 6:40 a long line of guys started coming around the corner of the barrack building. They were the ones that had forgone breakfast. They’d slept until the very last minute. Suddenly, the driver of the first cattle car started his engine. That seemed to be a cue for everyone to load up. The other cattle car driver followed suit. Slowly but surely the crowd loaded up and in no time flat we were headed for the piers.
The cattle cars turned left and headed up the main street of Camp Tien Sha. Once off base, the cars turned right onto a main thoroughfare. The sun was just rising, and in the early morning light I could see that we were traveling down a coastal highway. A large body of water appeared off to the left. A steep mountain appeared off to the right. There was a transmission tower on top of it.
After about a ten minute ride we reached the end of the coastal road. Just off to the left was an open gate with a sign that read ‘Deep Water Piers, DaNang’. The cattle cars made a U-turn and came to a stop. As we were unloading I saw a large crowd of men standing about ten yards away. They were the night crew. They were waiting for us to get off so they could get on.
I followed the crowd through the main gate. Once inside they all formed up for muster in front of a small wooden building that was situated right in front of, and about 50 yards away from, three wooden piers. There were two cargo ships moored to each pier, one on the port side, the other on the starboard. The small wooden building had a sign on the front that said ‘Deep Water Piers, #1 in Vietnam’. A W-4 bosun warrant stepped out onto the porch.
“All right, men. We’ve got a lot to do today. Team captains, call the roll first, then come inside for hole assignments. Before you start, however, we’ve got some newbies here who need to be assigned to teams.”
The boson then called out ten to fifteen names. When the men answered up, he assigned them to a team. Mine was the last name called.
“Powers, where are you?”
“Right here, sir.”
“You’re on hatch team Foxtrot. Foxtrot team leader, raise your hand.”
The team captain in front of the sixth row of men in formation raised his hand.
“Fall in at the back of that row.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“All right, then. Team leaders, call the roll, then come inside for assignments.”
After the hatch team captains called the roll, they went inside to draw hole assignments. As soon as they entered the shack the teams broke ranks and began making small talk. Being an FNG, I knew that my new crewmates would probably avoid me, so it was no real disappointment when they didn’t acknowledge my presence. While they talked, I lit a cigarette and stepped off to one side. I watched as some of the other newbies began trying to fit in. I felt sorry for them as they tried to engage the old-timers in conversation. For the most part, they were totally ignored.
I began to think about the price one paid for friendships in the Navy. Ever since I’d been in I’d had at least one friend that I could talk to at any given time. Fabian and Snow and I had become friends on the flight to boot camp. By the time we got to San Diego we’d formed a bond; each of us had somebody to talk to when things got tough. Now, because of this damn FNG crap; because I was a newbie and nobody would talk to me, I didn’t have anybody. I wondered what had become of Fabian and Snow. And what about Rucker and Irby? I wondered what had happened to Bohon. I thought about Bug Man. Where was Scooter? And where were Earles and little Jimmy Lloyd? Would I ever see any of them again? The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that making friends in the Navy wasn’t worth it. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t do that anymore. No more friendships! I wouldn’t get close to anybody, and I wouldn’t let any-body get close to me.
The shack was referred to as Alpha Shack, and the hatch team captains spent about ten minutes inside. When they emerged, some had smiles on their faces; but others were downright angry. The captain of our team was mad as hell. As he came out the door he threw me a brand new hard hat as he started walking toward the piers.
“All right, people. We’ve got a hole full of beer.”
The whole team responded negatively:
“Beer? How’d we get beer?”
The hatch team captain began offering an explanation and issuing orders at the same time:
“Daffy, get a forklift; a small one. You know what else we need; wire rope, manila rope, six sheets of plywood, two crowbars. Tweety, you get a forklift, too. If they’ve got a Hyster, get one. If not, anything’ll do.
“Goofy, you’re on the winch. Tom and Jerry, you guys work the hole. Sylvester, Rocky, Bullwinkle, you guys work the pier. Booboo, you spot. Newbie, I want you with me.”
The hatch team captain was an E-6. The guy he called Booboo was an E-5. Everyone except the two guys going to check out forklifts followed the captain toward the center pier. Booboo seemed as mad as the captain:
“We shoulda’ got our choice, damn it! Hatch team of the month don’t mean shit no more!”
The hatch team captain was walking very fast. Some of us had to break into a jog just to keep up. He was still smarting about the assignment we’d drawn.
“The American civilian with the Korean contract got the rolling stock. That son-of-a-bitch oughta be shot! If I didn’t know better I’d swear he was payin’ somebody off!”
Booboo’s anger subsided a little.
“Was beer the next best thing?”
“Best I can tell. At least we didn’t get that damn refer ship!”
“Yea. Coulda’ been worse, I guess.”
When we got to the ship, everybody - including the guys assigned to work the pier - walked up the gangway one at a time. The ship had just arrived the night before. The hatch cover over the hole had to be removed before the unloading process could begin. Everybody but me and the hatch team captain went to work taking the hatch cover off. They all knew what to do and they set about doing it with an aggressive determination. They seemed to have conjured up some energy from a reserve deep down inside. They didn’t appear to be tired anymore. They were still pale and gaunt looking, but they worked with a strength that surprised me.
While the team was removing the hatch cover, two merchant seaman from the ship’s com-pany were moving the booms over the hole into the proper position. The starboard boom, the one on the right - the one closest to the pier - was moved out over the pier, and the port boom, the one on the left, was moved into position just to the left of the port side of the hatch.
“All right, newbie. I want you to stand up here with me and watch every job being done for the rest of the morning. We’ll break for lunch around 12:30. When we start back to work after lunch I wanna be able to assign you to a task - any task being done - and I wanna know you know how to do it. OK?”
It took about twenty minutes to remove the hatch cover. By the time the cover was removed, the guys who’d gone to get the forklifts and the other gear were back. The team was ready to start working the hole.
I watched intently as the unloading process began.
The hole was packed to the very top with what seemed like a sea of 4’ x 4’ cardboard squares. There was little if any space between the squares. I couldn’t help but wonder how they were going to get the stuff out. I had a number of questions. Why did they need plywood? And why did they need wire rope? I decided against asking; I figured all my questions would be anwered soon enough. And they were.
The cardboard squares were the tops of cardboard-wrapped, wire-banded palletized loads of beer. Goofy, the winch operator, was an expert. Using the two winch throttles that controlled the boom cables he swung the hook attached to the cables out over the pier. Then he lowered it down and stopped it about waist-high to the men on the pier. One of the guys, the one they called Bullwinkle, prepared the wire rope for attachment to the hook. The wire rope had an eye woven into each end. He slipped one eye through the other and formed what looked like a lasso out of the wire rope. Then he took the eye on the free end of the rope and looped it over the hook. When he was sure the rope was in place, he raised his right hand skyward to signal Goofy that it was ready. Without a word being spoken, Goofy engaged the winch, and the hook, with wire rope attached, came zooming off the pier and up and over the hole.
The guys working the hole just stepped over the sides of the hatch onto the sea of cardboard squares. Goofy lowered the wire rope down and the one they called Tom grabbed it and loosened it into a large lasso shape. Then he and other guy, the one they called Jerry, began poking the lasso-shaped rope down around the uppermost part of the center-most pallet. They got it started with their hands, then they took crowbars and used them to jam the rope deeper into the cracks on all four sides. Once the rope was as deep as they could get it with the crowbars, Tom signaled for Goofy to take up the slack on the winch. Jerry kept his foot on the eye of the rope and jammed it down tight next to the top of the load. Slowly, the slack was reduced to a minimum and the wire rope came taught. At that point, Goofy slacked off on the winch and waited for Tom to give him a ‘go’ sign. Tom checked all four sides of the load and then gave a thumbs up. There was a ripping noise. The wire rope began crushing the load inward. The sound of the rope cutting into the cans was irritating; like someone scratching a chalkboard with their fingernails. Jerry kept his foot on the wire forcing the lasso to get smaller and smaller as the rope continued to tear through the load. Slowly but surely the load began to ease its way upward. As it did, the liquid contents of the cans that had been ruptured began spewing from all four sides. In no time at all Tom and Jerry were soaking wet. Occasionally, a solid stream of foamy liquid would come squirting out in a straight line. The one closest to the stream would lean down, open wide, and take the spray directly into his mouth. The hatch team captain responded to Tom and Jerry’s actions with a smile.
“All right, you two. Don’t get drunk on me!”
They responded with sheepish grins as Goofy eased off on the rope. The top of the load was now about three feet above the other cargo and the lasso was completely visible again. They forced the lasso back down in the cracks and repeated the process with the crowbars. Again, as Goofy engaged the winch and took up the slack, the wire rope began ripping its way into the cans. There was another spray of foamy liquid. Tom and Jerry were now soaked from head to foot. The whole procedure was repeated two or three more times until the pallet - its load torn almost to pieces - was yanked free from the hold of the pallets that surrounded it. The wire rope was removed and two sections of manila rope were attached to the hook. One section of rope was wrapped around the lift points on one side of the pallet, and the other section was attached around the lift points on the other. What was left of the palletized load was then lifted out of the hole and winched over the side and down onto the pier. One of the forklift drivers drove up and forked the load. He then moved it off to the side, away from the load landing area.
Tom and Jerry then used their crowbars to force another pallet as far into the space vacated by the previous load as they could. Once they’d done that, it was easier to force the lasso down around the next load. Two sides were now accessible; that made it easier to get the lasso around the load. They repeated the extraction process, and just like before, but easier this time, they pretty much destroyed the contents of pallet number two as they snaked it out of the hole.
Using a wire rope lasso to clear the first ten or twelve pallets out of a hole was called ‘snaking’. Once an area large enough to hold a forklift was cleared out, four or five sheets of plywood were placed in the hole on top of the pallets of beer still stacked below. Once the plywood sheets were in place, a small, 2,000 pound forklift was lowered into the hole and it was then used to move the pallets into position in the center of the hole so they could be lifted out with the manila ropes.
Double-stacked pallets of beer were loaded into the hole three double stacks deep. By 11 o’clock, the team was just finishing up the uppermost level. Once that level was com-pletely unloaded, the snaking procedure would start all over again on the next level in the stack. As the forklift was moving the last of the double-stacks on the first level into position to be lifted out, the hatch team captain walked over to where I was standing.
“OK, newbie. You got any questions?”
“Yea, I do.”
“Let me guess. You wanna know why nobody’ll talk to you. You wanna know why everybody’s so hard on you new guys. Well, let me try to explain it. I don’t know whether this’ll make any sense or not, but here goes.
“Most of the casualties we get down here happen in the first sixty days a guy’s in-country. It’s just plain old stupidity mostly. The newbies don’t know the ropes; they don’t pay attention; they let their minds wander, then boom! It’s over with! They’re either gettin’ airlifted out to a hospital, maimed for life, or they’re gettin’ zipped up in a body bag. It’s hard enough to witness somethin’ like that period. But it’s even harder when you know the guy; when you know his name; when you know how old he is; when his birthday is; how many brothers and sisters he has; what his girlfriend’s name is. So, nobody wants to know you yet. They don’t want to know any more about you than they have to. That way, if something happens to you, it’ll hurt. But it won’t hurt as bad as it would if they knew you; IF THEY REALLY KNEW YOU.
“Does that answer your question?”
“That wasn’t my question.”
“Beg your pardon.”
“That wasn’t what I wanted to know.”
The hatch team captain looked confused.
“Wha’d you wanna know?”
“What’s with all the cartoon nicknames? And what do they call you?”
“Well I’ll be damned. You’re the first newbie that hasn’t come cryin’ to me about the way he was being treated.
“As for the nicknames, most of the other hatch team members just call each other by their last names. A few others dish out nicks, but not many.
“I don’t know when it started on Foxtrot. The hatch team captain I replaced was called Charlie Brown. His assistant leader was a guy they called Snoopy. Charlie and Snoopy left within a month of each other. When I took over they didn’t call me anything for a week or two. Then Evans, the E-5, came on as my assistant. Within a week or so they started callin’ him Booboo.”
“Let me guess. They call you Yogi.”
“You got it. And they call the piers Jellystone Park.”
I broke out in a grin. A big smile lit up his face, too. Then we continued our conversation.
“Why are you talkin’ to me?”
“Well, I always try to explain it to the new guys; you know, why nobody’ll talk to ‘em. That brings up an obvious question, by the way. Why didn’t you wanna know?”
“I kinda figured it was somethin’ like that.”
There was a brief pause in our conversation while Yogi returned a greeting from another hatch team captain on the pier. A moment or so later, he turned his attention to me again.
“So, any other questions?”
“How will I know when I’ve been accepted by the group?”
He broke into a big smile.
“When somebody refers to you as something other than FNG, newbie, asshole, dumbfuck or shithead, that’ll be a good sign.”
We both started laughing. Then I asked him to elaborate on my previous question.
“You never did answer me.”
“Why are you talkin’ to me?”
He paused before he answered.
“Well. I don’t guess I believe in that cold-shoulder shit.”
“I don’t know. I guess it’s because ... well ... when a newbie fucks up and gets killed, he dies alone. He goes out totally alone; 12,000 miles from home; in a war zone; scared to death and totally alone. That ain’t right.”
“For talkin’ to me.”
“It don’t mean nothin’.”
“Yea, it does.”
He paused for a moment. Then he looked me straight in the face.
“I guess it does, doesn’t it?”
Tom and Jerry were beginning to snake the first double-stack out of the second level. Yogi walked over to the hatch and told them to check the wire rope before they started. He wanted to be sure that it hadn’t become frayed. A frayed wire rope could break, and a broken wire rope, if it broke under the pressure of a load, could kill when it snapped and flew away.
I first noticed the tape on the hard hats as the team started snaking the first pallets out of the center section of the second level. Yogi was standing close by. I walked over next to him and got his attention.
“Why do the guys have those white strips of tape on their hard hats?”
“Every time they’ve been in an accident, or had a near miss, they mark their hats. Every piece of white tape you see represents a situation that could have killed them. Everybody’s got at least one. Rocky’s got three. I guess that figures, he’s been here the longest.”
“You don’t have any.”
“Hatch team captains just supervise.”
“Nice work if you can get it.”
He smiled. He knew I was kidding and he patted me on the shoulder.
“Rate does have its advantages.”
“Why don’t the other hatch teams have tape on their hats?”
“As far as I know, we’re the only team that does that. The others think it’s bad luck.”
“I can see their point. Keeping count of disasters seems kind of weird; like you’re just waiting for the next one to happen.”
“Maybe. But Foxtrot don’t see it like that. It’s more like a badge of honor. If these guys got hurt in combat they’d get a god-damn Purple Heart. But gettin’ wounded or killed at the piers - doin’ their job - hell, they don’t get shit!”
“You’re saying, technically, that every strip of tape should represent a Purple Heart?”
“Let me put it to you this way. Every strip of tape on those hats involved either a broken bone, substantial blood loss, or the survival of an accident or situation that could have resulted in the loss of their lives. But because those accidents, injuries or situations weren’t the direct result of combat, they don’t get anything; they don’t get shit; they get zero, nada, nothing!”
“I see their point.”
“The other hatch teams do, too. You watch ‘em stare, eyes as big as silver dollars, when Rocky walks by. They know what those three white marks mean. They’re in awe of him; and rightfully so. Hell, I’m in awe of him!”
“How’d he get hurt?”
“I don’t know about the first two times. But he got the last one when a gook winch operator dropped a cargo net full of refer goods on him.”
“God-damn gooks. You gotta watch’em every minute.”
At 12:30 sharp, Yogi yelled, “Secure for lunch!” Everyone immediately began securing their equipment. When the equipment was secure, we all met on the pier and walked back toward Alpha Shack.
Just to the right of Alpha Shack there was a canteen truck. It had a hinged cover on the right side and the cover had been raised and secured revealing a spread of food trays on metal stands with sterno cans ablaze underneath. Several hatch teams were already lined up. We fell in behind them. Moments later two more teams fell in behind us.
In the rear of the truck there was a holding area that contained hard paper plates, plastic knives, forks and spoons, napkins, a tea dispenser and a stack of ten ounce plastic cups. I grabbed a plate, two napkins and a knife, fork and spoon. When I got to the guy who was serving the meals I handed him my plate. He loaded it up with heaping portions of roast beef, green beans, corn and mashed potatoes. There was a basket full of rolls at the end of the line. I grabbed two.
I followed the guys to the edge of the center pier. There were 8” x 8” x 8’ hard-wood footers that ran all the way around the perimeter of each pier. The guys placed their trays on the footers and went back to the truck to get something to drink. They grabbed two cups of tea each and returned to their place on the footers. They placed their drink cups on the deck, picked up their plates, sat on the footers, placed their plates on their knees and dug in. For the most part, I did what they did.
At first, I didn’t pay much attention to them when they started eating. I was starving, so I took the plastic knife and fork and began cutting my roast beef. When I’d cut off a reasonable portion, I speared it and brought the fork to my mouth. As I went to take that first bite I noticed that everyone was staring at me. I sat there, frozen, a fork full of roast beef just inches from my lips. Why were they staring at me? I stared at them. They continued to stare at me. Slowly, I placed the food in my mouth, removed the fork, and started chewing. I continued to stare at them the whole time. Slowly, one at a time, they started eating. I immediately knew why they’d been staring.
None of them had any utensils. They used their hands. Their hands were filthy, but that didn’t seem to matter. They’d pick up the roast beef and tear off a chunk of it with their teeth. They’d grab a handful of corn and just slam it in their mouths, chewing the whole time. There was gravy on the roast beef, so their hands were gooey right from the get go. When they’d eat the mashed potatoes, they’d scoop up a fistful, dab the bottom of their fist in the gravy, then lick the potatoes out of their hand, then lick the bottom of their fist, all in one motion. When they were done, nothing on their plates was wasted. Some used their rolls to sop up every bit of mashed potatoes and gravy that remained on their plates. Some used their fingers to do the same thing. Bullwinkle was more direct. He just put his plate up to his face and started licking.
As I continued to use the knife and fork, Rocky thought it best to set me straight.
“Hey, newbie. We don’t take the full twenty like the other teams do. You keep usin’ that knife and fork and you gon’ starve to death.”
The others all managed a laugh-like grunt. Sure enough, when Yogi called us back to work I’d barely managed to eat half of what was on my plate.
There were garbage cans nearby. I played follow-the-leader and mimicked everything I saw them do. We threw away our trash, with the exception of one cup, and headed off toward a storage rack that contained two, enormous containers. One was labeled ‘Potable Water’ and the other ‘Non-Potable Water’. There was a spigot at the bottom of each container. One at a time the guys lined up in front of the ‘Non-Potable’ container and washed their hands. As they finished, they stepped over to the ‘Potable’ container, cup in hand, and drank their fill of drinking water.
When 12:50 came, and the other hatch teams started returning to their holes, we’d already been working for a good ten minutes. We’d been at it now for six hours. In the civilian world, or even in the Navy back in the states, we’d call it a day after eight. But this wasn’t the states. It was the Nam and we still had a hard six to go.
When we’d gotten back to the hole, Yogi had asked me which job I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to drive a forklift on the pier. He kindly informed me that you had to have a forklift license to do that. He said he’d send me to forklift school when we moved to night shift, that way I’d get some time off.
My second job choice was handling the cargo on the pier. Yogi sent me down and told the others to let me alternate un-roping every other load. Sylvester, Rocky and Bullwinkle didn’t treat me badly, they just basically ignored me unless I wasn’t paying attention when the load started to swing, or wasn’t facing the forklift when it was in operation. When I needed a reprimand, they gave it quickly, and they usually preceded such comments with ‘Hey, asshole! Get out of the way!’, or ‘Yo’, dumbshit! You wanna get killed?’.
There were a number of different forklifts in service at the piers. There were small Clark lifts capable of lifting loads of up to 2,000 pounds that had small, hard-rubber tires. They were ideal for use on small pallets in the hole of a ship. And because they were the lightest units available, they were the only lifts that could be driven on top of second and third level loads like palletized beer.
There were two conventional Hyster units. One was rated at 4,000 pounds and the other was rated at 6,000. Both had large, inflatable rubber tires and were ideal for moving loads on the piers. There was an even larger unit that was capable of moving eight to ten thousand pound loads but I can’t remember what it was called. We only used them to move small rolling stock like jeeps and trucks and we didn’t use them often.
You had to go to Forklift School, a three-day training class, to be licensed to drive the Clark and Hyster models. A forklift license was highly prized, and only a few members of each team were sent through the training program.
From the first day that I’d heard about the piers, my greatest fear about being assigned there was that I’d be unloading ammo and/or fuel. I wanted no part of that! What if there was an enemy rocket or mortar attack? A well-placed rocket in the hole of a ship loaded with ammo! No sir! I wanted no part of that! It was a great relief to learn that ammo and fuel weren’t unloaded at the piers. All ammo and fuel were unloaded sea-side and brought ashore, in relatively small loads, in landing craft. I don’t know where that stuff came ashore at, maybe Bridge Ramp, but just knowing it wasn’t coming ashore at the piers made me a happy camper.
The name of the game at the piers was tonnage. Tonnage drove everything. The number of tons a team could unload in a day (or night) was the yardstick by which a team was measured. The prize for day shift crews was that extra twenty-four hours off when the shift rotations occurred at the end of each month. Foxtrot consistently unloaded more cargo every month than any other team on their shift. Subsequently, they were almost always recognized as Hatch Team of the Month. They certainly worked harder than any other team, and it was a team decision to do so. Yogi didn’t push; it wasn’t his doing; the team just took a lot of pride in their work.
Besides palletized cargo like beer and soda, there were a number of other load types that we encountered at the piers. There were holes loaded with mixed loads. There were holes loaded with rolling stock. And there were two types of pre-packed loads; conex boxes and SeaLand containers. But the worst hole to draw was a hole on a refer ship.
The conventional refrigerated ship looked like a banana boat. It was more scooner than ship, and the holes were usually loaded down with 2’ x 2’ x 8” high boxes that contained meat, fish, pork, poultry or butter. Every element associated with working a refer was bad.
First of all, you had to wear a hooded, fleece-lined arctic jacket while you were in a refer compartment. The compartments were freezing; well below zero, and we could only work in them for 15 minutes at a time. We’d split into two crews and alternate in 15 minute shifts. We only had one set of jackets, however, so the crew coming out had to take off their jackets and give them to the crew going in. Going back and forth, in and out, was hell on your system. All day long you’d go back and forth, every 15 minutes, from below freezing to 100-plus degrees or vice versa. Every time we worked a refer ship, everybody who worked on a compartment crew came down with a monstrous upper-respiratory infection. And it didn’t take long to get sick. Most of us would be sneezing great globs of green snot after just three or four hours.
Besides being a pain-in-the-ass to work, it was hard to get any meaningful tonnage working a refer.
Since the boxes in a refer compartment weren’t palletized, and it was necessary to keep the temperature as low as possible, we had to load the boxes onto cargo nets while the compartment was totally sealed. Then, once the cargo net was full, we’d remove just enough hatch covers to allow the cargo net to be winched out. The guys working the pier had to unload the nets by hand. Then they’d stack the boxes on pallets on the pier and strap the loads with wire banding material. After strapping the loads, they had to be loaded onto flatbed trailers and secured so they could be transported immediately to the refrigerated warehouse facilities at Covered Storage.
Refer ships were bad news all the way around. Working a refer for one day wouldn’t yield as many tons as we could get unloading a palletized beer hole for an hour.
A hole that contained mixed loads was always a surprise. Some elements in the hole might be palletized; other elements might be containerized in either a conex or a crate, and these elements would be shored in place with lumber to keep them from shifting at sea. Though the tonnage might be respectable, we hated working a mixed load hole that was heavily shored. It would take half the day just to remove the lumber. Un-shoring a mixed load hole was hard, butt-busting manual labor; and it rarely resulted in meaningful tonnage.
Rolling stock refers to any vehicular load and generally consisted of jeeps and trucks. Rolling stock was held in place with chains and turnbuckles. Like the mixed load material that had to be shored, rolling stock had to be secured so that the vehicles couldn’t shift in transit through rough seas. The turnbuckles were attached to anchor points in the hole’s deck and bulkheads. Every hole in every ship had anchor points galore.
The downside to working rolling stock was that the chains and turnbuckles had to be removed before each vehicle could be lifted out. Chains and turnbuckles were packed with grease. Accordingly, you couldn’t work rolling stock without getting completely covered - head to foot - with black, grimmy, gooey grease.
A conex box was a metal cargo container that was 7’ long by 7’ wide by 7’ high. These boxes would be pre-loaded at their point of origin with all manner of cargo, usually PX items like jewelry and/or electronic components, and we’d just unload the containers and forklift them onto flatbed trucks for delivery to their final destination.
Unloading a conex box was relatively easy. A conex chain was used to lift the boxes out of the hole. A conex chain consisted of a large, iron ring with four six-foot chains attached to it. At the end of each length of chain there was a large, iron hook. Each top corner of a conex box had a lifting bar that one of the chain hooks could be attached to. With the iron ring attached to the winch hook, and the four hooks on the chain attached to the four corner lifting bars, getting the load out of a hole was usually a simple task. Unless, of course, the loads had become so tightly bunched together in transit that the winch couldn’t pull them free. When that happened, we had to call for the Yard Crane.
Unloading SeaLand container ships was hard work, but it was the second best job to draw when it came to racking up the tons.
SeaLand containers were trailers WITHOUT wheels that were constructed to fit on trailer frames WITH wheels. Once the trailer, or container, was attached to a trailer frame - which was attached to a tractor cab - the unit was identical to an 18-wheel truck/trailer combination one might see on the highways back in the states. There was a hoist contraption on a track on the ship that could go from hole to hole and from side to side to lift the containers and then lower and attach them to the trailer frames which were attached to the tractor cabs on the pier.
During the unloading process, a tractor cab with a trailer frame attached would pull into position on the pier. Then, the hoist contraption would lower the container and lock it in position on the trailer frame. Once the hoist operator released the container, the truck driver could drive off with his load.
SeaLand container ships came in different sizes, but the typical vessel had eight holes, four forward and four aft, and each hole could hold 12 containers below deck and 12 containers above deck once the hatch covers were removed. Like rolling stock, each container was secured with chains and turnbuckles, and the turnbuckles had to be removed - or ungriped - before they could be unloaded. It was hard work, but we loved it. SeaLand loads were where the tons were, unless you drew the mother load.
The mother load, plain and simple, was a rolling stock hole that contained tanks.
American made M-48 and M-60 Patton tanks were huge. The M-60s weighed sixty tons each. When a ship that contained tanks hit port, the tanks were usually loaded four to six in each hole. Only one hole of tanks could be unloaded at a time because there was only one Yard Crane in DaNang.
A Yard Crane, or Y.D., was a giant crane on a barge that had to be towed by tugs. The harbor master had to be called to arrange for the use of the crane and the harbor pilot would guide the tugs hauling the crane and position it outboard of the hole to be unloaded. At 48 or 60 tons each, depending on the make of Patton to be unloaded, no ship’s rigging could lift a tank. The use of a Y.D. was the only option.
Removing the turnbuckles from four tanks was a piece of cake. The Y.D. operator, a professional who did nothing but run the crane, didn’t do anthing but that - run the crane. All we had to do was ungripe the turnbuckles, hook the lifting rings onto each tank prior to the lift, and provide a spotter on the deck to signal the Y.D. operator when the load was ready.
Six tanks could be removed from a hole in two hours. In those two hours a team could rack up 360 tons simply by removing 24 turnbuckles and making six tanks ready to lift. Needless to say, we loved working a mother load.
Which hole, and subsequently what type of cargo a hatch team would be unloading on any given day, was determined just prior to the beginning of each working day (or night). The hatch team captains would meet with the W-4 boson and the leader of the team that had unloaded the most tons the day before would get first choice. The leader of the team that had unloaded the second most tons would get second choice and so on. Yogi almost always got first choice; Foxtrot almost always unloaded the most tons on any given day.
On my first day at the piers there had been a deviation in the selection process. The civilian in charge of the Korean teams had insisted that they get the only rolling stock hole in port that day. That was where the tons were, and he got paid by the ton. Everything else was just palletized or mixed loads, except for the last two holes on the refer ship on pier three. Yogi wouldn’t have been upset ordinarily, but hatch team Charlie was making a run for Hatch Team of the Month. They’d gotten a mother load with four tanks on the first day of the month. Foxtrot had gotten a mother load the following day, but when they opened the hole, there were only three tanks. All other tonnage aside, hatch team Charlie had gained a 60 ton advantage, and Yogi was determined to make up the difference.
The team worked with an incredible intensity. They’d busted their fannies all morning, and they busted fanny for two or three hours after lunch as well. But by 4 o’clock in the afternoon they began to show signs of fatigue. The guys working the hole were really dragging. I’d basically had the morning off, and I was only working every other lift in the afternoon, but I was dragging myself when 4 o’clock came.
By 6 o’clock we were all exhausted; even the forklift operators. At 6:30 the other teams began to secure their holes and make their way to the front gate to wait for the cattle cars. We worked till 6:45 and were halfway through the third level. The hatch team working the hole just forward of ours was working a beer hole, too. They’d opened a new hole just like we had, but they were only halfway through the second level when they quit for the day.
When Yogi finally gave us the order to secure, the guys working the forklifts loaded up the plywood, wire and manila ropes and returned them to the equipment shack. Then they drove their lifts back to the forklift yard. We all got to the main gate just as the night crew guys were arriving.
I boarded one of the cattle cars and slumped down in the first seat I came to. When the cattle car pulled out I looked around to see if anybody else from my team was aboard. I didn’t see one familiar face. I began to wonder if they’d avoided the car I was in on purpose. I finally decided that it really didn’t matter. Even if we’d been on the same car, they wouldn’t have talked to me.
The sun was going down; it was burning a vivid, reddish orange just above the horizon in the west. There was more light than there had been during the morning ride and I stared out the open door of the cattle car at the surroundings. The landscape was beautiful, but it was still hot and muggy, and that god-awful smell was still in the air. But heat and smell aside, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the countryside was.
When the cattle cars got back to the barrack the crews unloaded just like I’d seem them do the night before. Some fell into heeps on the barrack stoop. Some went straight to their bunks and collapsed. Some went straight to the showers. Others went straight to the chow hall for supper.
I went straight to my bunk and placed my hard hat on top of my locker. I took off my boots, socks and utilities. I opened my locker and stepped into my flip flops. I got my shaving kit, a towel and a change of skivvies and went to the head. I did my thing on the toilet, lifted the tank lid and checked for grenades, flushed the toilet and then went to the sink and shaved. Then I took a long, hot shower. There were two mama sans in the shower sweeping up. I totally ignored them and they totally ignored me.
When I was done in the shower, I made my way back to my locker and broke starch on a clean pair of utilities. I loaded my dirty clothes into my ditty bag and then made my way to the chow hall.
The serving line was short. I made it through in no time and started looking for a place to sit. The Foxtrot crew was sitting at a table in the back. Some of them noticed me as I left the serving area. They stared at me intently. I knew what they were thinking. There was an empty table in the center of the room. I sat down there. I glanced over my shoulder once to see if the guys were still watching me. They weren’t. I figured that once they knew I wasn’t going to try and sit with them, they had no further reason to give me any thought at all.
I was the only member of Foxtrot in my berthing area. I was the only newbie in that section, too. I had no one to talk to, so when I got back to the barrack I wrote a couple of letters.
When I’d first checked into the barrack I’d noticed that there were small fans mounted to the bed frames at the foot of most of the bunks. Some of them would swivel from side-to-side while they were in operation, but most didn’t, they just blew straight toward the head of the bed keeping the air over the bunk in constant circulation. I’d also noticed that one of the fans, the one mounted to the foot of the top bunk right next to mine on the in-board side, didn’t have a cover over the blade. That seemed kind of dangerous to me. Somebody could jab a finger in that thing in the dark. Or worse!
Most of the guys in my section were racked out and sawing logs by 8:45. I went to bed, too, but I couldn’t get to sleep. I was tired. Not as tired as I’d been on any given day in BUDS training, but tired just the same. There was a red bulb, a night light, in all the berthing spaces. If you had to get up in the middle of the night, the red light put out just enough light for you to see where you were going. I got up, put my utilities back on, and searched through my locker for the E-5 insignia that Guns had given me when we went to the Acey Deucey club. I put the smaller pieces back on my collars, then I put the larger piece on the front of my utility cap and left the barrack. I wanted to talk to Guns again. I had a few more questions I wanted to ask.
When I got to the Acey Deucey club I was hesitant to go in. What if there was an E-5 or an E-6 from the piers inside? If I got caught impersonating a petty officer I could get in a lot of trouble. I built up my courage and was just about to go in when Guns came walking out.
“Hey, Guns. You got a minute?”
“Whoa! Hey, man. You don’t need to be wearin’ that stuff now. That first day, hey, the chances of gettin’ caught were slim to none. But now!”
“I just need to ask you a couple of questions, that’s all.”
“Come on inside. But let’s don’t be doin’ this anymore, OK!”
We went inside, bought a couple of beers and went to a table in the back.
“Whatcha’ wanna know?”
“Somethin’ don’t seem right.”
“People get killed; people get hurt; people get maimed at the piers ...”
“Ahhh, so you got the piers, did you?”
“Yea. And people get killed; they get hurt, they get maimed, and I just can’t help but think that it doesn’t have to be that way. I mean, why do they push things to the point that people have to die, or get maimed? It just doesn’t seem right.”
“It’s the mindset, kid. You ain’t back in the states no more. You’re in never-never land now. The rules are different over here. Excuse me, but ain’t we already talked about this?”
“Yea. But it doesn’t have to be this way. All they seem to care about is gettin’ the tons. If somebody gets killed ‘cause they’re worn to a frazzle and not payin’ attention, they don’t seem to care.”
“Whoever’s in charge.”
“Ahhhh! You just put your finger on the problem.”
“The name of the game for the combat units is bodies. Body count. Every combat unit in Nam, Army, Navy, Air Force and marine, every one of them is involved in what they call Search and Destroy missions. They search out the enemy, and when they find ‘em, their only job is to destroy ‘em. Destroy as many of the little motherfuckers as they can. In combat, it’s body count! That’s all that matters! At the piers, it’s tons! All that matters is tons.”
“But why does it have to be that way?”
“Who knows? It’s the leadership’s fault. They ain’t got no plan to win the damn war, so everybody’s just goin’ through the motions, but nobody knows exactly what to do.”
“That sounds crazy!”
“It is. But I’ll tell you something even crazier. You know where I got assigned?”
“The main storage facility. All that shit you’re unloading at the piers gets sent over to us. Tell me somethin’. What did you unload today?”
“Beer. We unloaded hundreds of pallets of beer.”
“Well, bubba. I don’t want to bust your bubble, but we’ve got acres and acres of palletized beer over there. I bet we’ve got enough to last all of I Corps for two, three, maybe even four months.”
“No. If you don’t believe me, take a swig of that Pabst.”
I took a long chug on my can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
“Notice anything strange about the taste?”
“It’s a little flat.”
“A LITTLE FLAT! HELL! I bet that can’s been in-country for six or seven months. And I bet it’s spent most of that time bakin’ in the sun over at the storage yard.”
“Hey, that ain’t all. We’ve got some M-60 Patton tanks over there that are brand new. Five or six of ‘em. Their treads don’t have mud or debris or anything on ‘em. They ain’t ever been used. But they’re already startin’ to rust. The suckers have been sittin’ in the yard so long they’re already startin’ to rust. Ain’t that some shit?”
“It don’t mean nothin’, remember. Nothin’ don’t mean nothin’. You bastards are down there bustin’ your asses and most of the shit you’re unloading is already in over-supply at the storage area. You get maimed and killed unloading it, and it’s already in over-supply at the storage yard! It don’t mean nothin’, man! Nothin’ means nothin’! It’s all fucked up!”
“That’s my point. Why are they doin’ that? Why are they pushin’ us to the point that some of us get killed to unload stuff we’ve already got plenty of in the first place?”
“Because for every ship you’ve got sittin’ at the piers to unload, there are two at anchor seaside waitin’ for you to unload them.”
“You wanna know why? You really wanna know why?”
“Because our congressmen back home allocated money for all this shit. They authorized the Pentagon to sign procurement orders with the folks who make the tanks and the folks who make the beer. They’ve ordered way fuckin’ more than they need, but that don’t matter. It’s all been authorized, so it’s got to be sent. And when it’s sent, it’s got to be unloaded. If some poor swabby gets killed in the process, big friggin’ deal! You think those congressmen give a shit? You think those generals and admirals at the Pentagon give a shit? You think that head honcho down at the piers gives a shit? Hell, no! It’s bullshit, man! It’s all bullshit! And it don’t mean nothin’!”
We didn’t say another word to each other. We finished our beers and walked outside. I took his E-5 insignia off and handed the pieces back to him. I shook his hand, said goodbye, and then walked back to the barrack.
When I climbed in the rack my mind was racing. Whatever illusions I might have had before were gone. Everything that Guns had said rang true. Nobody really cared. The reason we were humpin’ our asses off was simple. There were more ships waiting in the harbor; ships loaded with cargo we didn’t really need. I felt like I suddenly knew a secret; a secret that no one else was supposed to know. And that secret: Nam was just one big cluster fuck! That’s all it was, plain and simple, just one gigantic cluster fuck!
I finally managed to fall asleep sometime around eleven. All hell broke loose at 2:05 when the red alert siren went off.
The siren was mounted on a pole just outside the barrack, and it was loud as hell! When it went off, I sat straight up in my bunk and looked around. The only light was the ambient red glow from the night light, but in that ambient red glow I could see guys running for the exit wearing nothing but their skivvies. I was up and running myself a second or two later.
The red alert bunker was just outside the door, about fifteen feet from the barrack. Just as I cleared the door, running for the bunker, I heard an awful grinding sound. It was followed almost immediately by a yell:
“Jesus Christ! Somebody call an ambulance!”
I kept running for the bunker. When I got to it, and ran inside, it was packed with people. Four or five others came in after me and we were packed shoulder to shoulder like sardines in a tin. The siren was still blaring, but we could hear people yelling outside:
“Somebody call a god-damn ambulance, please! There’s a guy dyin’ in here!”
Those of us in the bunker were confused. We hadn’t heard an explosion. What had happened? Who was injured? And how had the injury occurred? I decided to find out. I elbowed my way out and ran back toward the barrack. There was some frantic activity going on in my berthing section. I ran through the door and saw three or four guys kneeling beside my bunk. One of them looked up as I came running in:
“Go get an ambulance, man! This guy’s in bad shape!”
“I don’t know. But his face is bleedin’ bad! Go get an ambulance! Now!”
I ran out the door and headed toward the barrack master-at-arms office. When I got there he was just hanging up the phone.
“Go to the bunker now!”
“We need an ambulance.”
“I know, I’ve already called for one. Now get your ass to the bunker!”
I ran back to my berthing section and told the guys kneeling on the floor that the ambulance was on the way. Then one of them asked me if I knew any first aid. I told him I knew a little and he told the others to clear a path and let me through.
The guy on the floor was out cold. I knew what had happened as soon as I saw his face.
“His fan didn’t have a cover on it. Check the fan. I bet he ran into the damn thing.”
As I knelt down beside the victim, one of the others checked the fan.
“The blade’s bent all to hell! And there’s blood all over the end of the bed!”
“God damn it!”
The victim’s face was gashed up bad and he was bleeding profusely. It was hard to tell just how bad the injury was because of the blood. I didn’t know exactly what to do, but I knew from the combat medicine training we’d had in BUDS that I had to stop the blood flow. The best way to do that was to apply pressure, so I asked one of the guys to get me a pillowcase. He grabbed the one from the hurt guy’s bunk and handed it to me. I just wadded it up and crammed it into the victim’s face. I didn’t want to restrict his airway, but I couldn’t tell where his nose was; or whether or not he still had one. Almost as soon as I applied pressure, the guy started squirming. Suddenly, I heard a gurgling sound. I figured the blood must be going down his throat. Something had to be done, and quick.
“Turn him on his side.”
“Don’t give me any shit! Turn him on his side!”
While I held the pillowcase in place, hard, trying to stop the bleeding, the others turned the victim onto his right side. The gurgling sound stopped.
Just a minute or so later the ambulance arrived. A moment or two later, two corpsmen came running through the door with a backboard and a medical bag.
“He ran into a fan. His face is tore all to hell!”
“OK, clear out. We’ll handle it.”
I was about to run back to the bunker when the red alert siren went silent. I didn’t know what that meant. Did it mean that everything was all right now, that the red alert was over? I didn’t know. While I was trying to decide what to do the master-at-arms walked up.
“I thought I told you to go to the bunker.”
“The siren’s not ringing now.”
“Go to the bunker, newbie. And stay there till you hear the all clear signal.”
“What’s the all clear signal?”
“The siren. When you hear the siren again it’s over.”
I went back to the bunker. Ten or fifteen minutes later I heard the siren on the ambulance as it pulled away. The all clear signal came about twenty minutes after that. Before I hit the rack, I went and took a shower. I had dried blood all over me. My skivvies had blood all over them, too. I threw them in the shit can.
I finally got in my bunk at 3:20 a.m. Some of the others managed to go back to sleep, but not me. I tossed and turned till the alarm went off at 5:30.
The next day at the piers it was like nothing had happened. Nobody talked about the red alert; and nobody talked about the guy that had been hurt.
We got assigned to a hole full of rolling stock and I got assigned to work in the hole. The upper two levels had already been cleared by the Korean teams the day before. We were working the bottom level, and it was a 45-foot climb down three 15-foot ladder sections to get to it. Before we started the climb down, Yogi called me off to the side and explained the ‘rule’ to me.
“The most common newbie accident is falling off a ladder in a hole. For that reason, there’s an unwritten rule here, for the safety of the others.”
“Newbies are the first to go down and the last to come out.”
“That way, if you fall, you won’t take anybody with you.”
“Well, don’t just stand there. Go!”
I went, and climbing down those three 15-foot ladder sections was scary as hell. Because the cargo was rolling stock, there was a lot of grease in the holes from the turnbuckles. The guys who’d climbed in and out over the past few days had gotten grease all over the hand rails and ladder rungs. It was hard to get a good grip. I was slow as Christmas making the descent, but I finally made it to the bottom. When I stepped away from the ladder, the others were coming down quickly. They were used to climbing down ladders, even greasy ones, and they were down and ungriping turnbuckles in no time.
We broke for lunch again at 12:30. When I went through the chow line I didn’t get any utensils. We sat back down on the pier footers to eat and just as we were finishing up, Bullwinkle turned to me and asked a question.
“Do you know what day it is?”
“It’s the 12th. No, I’m sorry. It’s the 13th.”
“The 13th. of what?”
“Beg your pardon?”
“What month, asshole? What month is it?”
Rocky spoke up.
“No shit? It’s September already?”
Bullwinkle expanded his questioning.
“OK, so it’s the 13th. But do you know what day it is?”
“Yea. It’s Wednesday.”
“Well I’ll be damned. Hey, ya’ll. It’s Wednesday!”
The others just grunted, then we all got up and went to the water containers. We washed our hands, filled up on drinking water and went back to work unloading rolling stock on pier three.
On the second morning after the red alert, the boson made an annoucement before calling the team captains in for hole assignments.
“Would the person that rendered first aid to the man who was injured in the fan accident the other night please step forward.”
I didn’t move. I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t sure it was me he was talking about. There were three or four other guys who rendered aid; was he talking about me, or was he talking about one of them? Being a newbie, I wasn’t about to step forward. I didn’t want to do anything to draw attention to myself. I had no idea how the others would react.
“OK. I’ll repeat myself. I want the man who rendered aid to the fan victim the other night to step forward. Now!”
I stood absolutely still. Everybody was looking around. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in who the person might be. When nobody stepped forward, the boson gave up the search.
“OK, then. If nobody wants to be a hero,
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