The Rockport Miracles-Part 4: Episode 13: "The Ballad Of Derecho Dan" Continues

Maynard Gridley was as gray as a ghost while recounting his harrowing tale from his days in Vietnam.

“Me and the wounded sapper were flushed down that ‘Poontang Valley’ with only two inflated hemorrhoid cushions between us and the Almighty. We floated a half mile until becoming snagged by the roots of a banyan tree.”

“Monsoon Charlie was directly over us and it became dark as night. I did what I could for my wounded comrade. All I had to cover up the hole in his chest was an empty pack of Lucky Strikes.”

“‘L-S-M-F-T, bro’, he said, before passing out.”

“The Lieutenant ordered the men to hunker down and hold onto their hemorrhoid cushions like they were their mothers and girlfriends. The blast hole was packed with every last bit of explosives on the firebase. We expected a pretty big bang but not at all what happened after the Lieutenant triggered the detonator.”

Maynard began to choke up as he recalled the moment of the explosion. “It was the hugest sound you ever heard! So loud, I didn’t even hear it at first. I saw a bright light and a huge mushroom cloud and then came a monster roar. All the water in the river was sucked into the sky until there was no freakin’ river at all!”

“Then,” Maynard continued, “the miracle happened. The explosion cleaved the monsoon in two like Charleton Heston and the goddam Red Sea! It slammed millions of gallons of water against the surrounding hillsides where VC and NVA were camped out. So much water blasted through their tunnels and spider holes they either drowned immediately or were shot out of their tunnels like water rockets. The water came rolling down the hillsides and reformed a new river. I watched in horror as scads of drowned or terrified enemy soldiers flooded past me. Then, the water grabbed me and my wounded comrade and away we went.”

The massive flood overwhelmed the firebase. 'Grab hold of your girlfriends, boys!' screamed the Lieutenant, 'We’re going for a ride!' Each man grabbed tight onto the long ribbon of inflatable hemorrhoid cushions and were carried downstream until we all met again at the bottom of the valley where a delta of dead enemy had formed. The Lieutenant personally pulled me and my wounded comrade from the water. 'Young man,' he said, ‘I will personally pin a Silver Star onto your chest.’” 

Little Dan and the three Joes sat in stunned silence, their mouths agape. "You…you’re a flippin’ war hero, Maynard!' said Little Dan swelling with pride. "My cousin is a war hero!" he yowled at the three Joes. One of the three Italian bricklayers asked, "What-a happen to your wounded comrade?” Big Maynard took in a deep breath, burst into tears, and buried his face in his hands. The innocent question had yanked out the last ‘Jenga’ holding poor Maynard upright. Little Dan and the three Joes jumped to big Maynard’s side, hugging him and patting him on the back. “Never mind, we know d’answer,” said the Joe.

Early evening light was draping Rockport as the three Joes left for the day. Their barrier wall was all but finished and already strong enough to protect the Gas & Lube from anything coming down storm alley...or, so they believed. Maynard quietly mounted his motorcycle for the 15 mile ride home to Parma. When he tried to put his helmet on, he barked out in pain. “Whatsa matter?” asked Little Dan. “I never see you wearing that helmet.” Maynard threw the helmet across the garage into the Tire Corral. He shook his head and said, "Some wounds just never heal!”

Maynard pulled back his long hair that hid the deep scar across his scalp where the Viet Cong sniper’s bullet had grazed him. Little Dan felt humbled. “You da man, cousin,” he said, ”Rest up and we’ll see you tomorrow.” Maynard gave his Harley a kick and its knucklehead engine roared to life. That’s when Little Dan caught sight of a real Silver Star medal pinned to the bike’s leather saddle bag. “Later!” yelled Maynard. Little Dan watched with pride as Maynard rode up 150th Street.

His home destroyed, Little Dan had been sleeping nights at the Gas & Lube until new arrangements could be determined. At 9pm he hopped onto the cot he’d set up in the Tire Corral. Little BD made a bed out of Maynard’s discarded helmet. They drifted off into a deep sleep, blissfully unaware of what had happened to Maynard during his ride home. It was an old story. A drunken driver’s contempt for life and motorcycles put a sudden end to Maynard’s troubled saga. The police told his mother that he could’ve survived, if only he’d been wearing a helmet.

The clock struck 3am and Little Dan’s snoring masked the sound of thunder that signaled the beginning of Storm 5.5. ‘The Ballad of Monsoon Charlie’ was over. ‘The Ballad of Derecho Dan’ was about to begin.

*We tore that storm from limb to limb

And sailed away like brothers

As the liquid light of day grew dim

Our thoughts turned toward the others

The ones that died in goddam ‘Nam

In jungles dark and gnarley

In the valley where we lit our bomb

And said goodbye to Monsoon Charlie.

* 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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Volume 15, Issue 16, Posted 3:19 PM, 08.21.2019