The Rockport Miracles-Part 4: Episode 10: “The Ballad of Derecho Dan” Continues
“Monsoon* Charlie was its name,
A storm so fierce,
Too strong to tame!”
Maynard Gridley was recounting a brutal memory from his time in Vietnam as he stood tall in repair bay #2 of the Rockport Gas & Lube. His audience, consisting of Little Dan and the three Joes, listened with rapt attention to his story about “Monsoon Charlie.” Maynard bragged that it was a storm that would beat the crap out of any ol’ Rockport storm on any ol’ day of the week. Little Dan scratched his head when he heard that. The concept of dueling storms was too abstract for the brain of a gas pump boy from Rockport, Ohio.
Maynard explained how he and his squad had snaked through the jungle until they came upon their objective, a U.S. firebase cut off from the outside world. Worse yet, they found themselves surrounded by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army who owned the surrounding hillsides. Even worse yet, they had just received orders to hold their position until an oncoming monsoon had passed. It wasn’t just any monsoon, either. It was the legendary ‘Monsoon Charlie’ storm that comes through every ten years and destroys everything in its path - like Godzilla.”
“We could hear the VC and NVA chiding us from their positions on the high ground. They were laughing and yelling, ’GIO MUA CHARLIE! GIO MUA CHARLIE SE CUONG BAN DI!!!’ (‘MONSOON CHARLIE WILL WASH YOU AWAY!!’). Maynard added, “They weren’t worried at all about the storm. They were dug in so deep they could climb out of a sewer manhole in downtown Cleveland.”
(Maynard walked over to the station’s red and squatty Coca-Cola machine and yanked out an ice cold 8oz. bottle. He popped off the cap and drank it down in one gulp, letting out a nuclear belch that could wake the dead.) He continued with his story, “The Lieutenant told the squad leader to spill the beans on everything the army meteorologist in Saigon told him about ‘Monsoon Charlie.’ The squad leader replied, ‘Not much to tell. We’ll know when it’s coming because the sky will turn black as midight. Zeus will rain clusters of giant lightning bolts down upon us...and when the brunt of the storm hits we’ll be sucked into the sky and tossed into the South China Sea. That’s about it.'
“The Lieutenant ordered the radio man to call up the company CP. When is the monsoon predicted to hit our position? - Over,' he shouted into the radio. No reply came, just static. 'Repeat, when is the storm to hit our position? OVER!' Suddenly, a voice crackled over the radio. The signal was very weak and the voice was garbled. The only thing we heard clearly was, 'nineteen hundred hours.' We all looked at our watches…it was then thirteen hundred hours. If nineteen hundred hours was the time of the storm’s arrival that meant we had only six hours to prepare. It was already raining.”
When the squad leader started screeching, ‘We’re trapped like rats!', the Lieutenant walked over and slapped him upside the head. 'THIS IS NO TIME FOR PANIC!' he screamed, 'We will weather this storm like Americans and we will survive!'
“The Lieutenant walked away from us and sat down under the camo netting. He took off his helmet and stared blankly into an empty ammo box. We thought he was going to ralph into it. After about five minutes he stood up and shouted at the sky, 'YEPPER DOODLE-that’s what we’ll do!' A few of us joined him under the netting. In nervous voices we asked, ‘What are we gonna do, Lieutenant?'
'You boys know who Tesla was?' he asked. Huh? Tesla? How the hell would we know who Tesla was? The Lieutenant was the only college boy, the rest of us geeks were drafted right out of high school. The Lieutenant explained, 'Men, Tesla was a genius who invented the modern world. Our electricity, our radio, TV, telephones, EVERYTHING comes from technology that he invented.' We all just looked at each other and wondered, ‘What is this? We don’t need no history lesson in the middle of the Poontang Valley! We don’t need no stinkin’ Tesla!”
“The Lieutenant then asked, ‘How much ammo is on this base?’ Somebody screamed, ‘LOTS!’ and added, ‘Some pencil-neck screwed up and they gave us a hundred 75mm shells for a 105mm howitzer. They're useless!’ Another guy said that the base stored enough Claymore mines to booby-trap the entire State of Texas.'
'Men', the Lieutenant said with a smile on his face, 'a man named Tesla developed a theory on how to stand up to storms…' He opened his canteen and poured its contents all over his head and face.
He tossed his empty canteen into the ammo box and said, “Now...we're gonna test that theory right here in Vietnam!”
* "We split our guts through thick and thin,
As the radio message came cracklin' in,
The 2nd Looey took a knee and said,
It’s 'Monsoon Charlie' and he wants us dead."
* excerpts from “The Ballad of Monsoon Charlie” by PFC Harvey Ridgewood, U.S. Army-©1968 FUBAR Records.
© 2019 Scott MacGregor-EOI Media Press Inc.
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