Illustration by Robert Yarber
ONCE you slip past that nurses' station in the east wing of D-3, you can get into the library at night easy enough if you have the keys. They keep the phone locked up in a desk drawer there but if you have the keys you can get it out and make all the long-distance calls you want to for free, and smoke all the cigarettes you want to, as long as you open a window and don't let the smoke pile up so thick inside that it sets off the smoke alarm. You don't want to set that thing to chirping. The library is a small room. There are three walls of paperback westerns and one wall of windows and one desk.
I called up Neap down in Orange, Texas, and he said, "I live in a bog now." I hadn't seen him in forty-odd years and I woke him up in the middle of the night and that was the first thing out of his mouth. "My house is sinking. I live in a bog now." I told him I had been thinking about the Fox Company Raid and thought I would give him a ring. We called it the Fox Company Raid, but it wasn't a company raid or even a platoon raid, it was just a squad of us, with three or four extra guys carrying pump shotguns for trench work. Neap said he didn't remember me. Then he said he did remember me, but not very well. He said, "I don't talk service no more."
We had been in reserve and had gone back up on the line to relieve some kind of pacifist division. Those boys had something like "Live and Let Live" on their shoulder patches. When they went out on patrol at night, they faked it. They would go out about a hundred yards and lie down in the paddies, and doze off, too, like some of the night nurses on D-3. When they came back, they would say they had been all the way over to the Chinese outposts but had failed to engage the enemy. They failed night after night. Right behind the line the mortar guys sat around in their mortar pits and played cards all day. I don't believe they even had aiming stakes set up around their pits. They hated to fire those tubes because the Chinese would fire right back.
It was a different story when we took over. The first thing we did was go all the way over to the Chinese main line. On the first dark night we left our trenches and crossed the paddies and slipped past their outposts and went up the mountainside and crawled into their trench line before they knew what was up. We shot up the place pretty good and blew two bunkers, or tried to, and got out of there fast with three live prisoners. One was a young officer. Those trenches had a sour smell. There was a lot of noise. The Chinese fired off yellow flares and red flares, and they hollered and sprayed pistol bullets with their burp guns and threw those wooden potato-masher grenades with the cast-iron heads. The air was damp and some of them didn't go off. Their fuses weren't very good. Their grenade fuses would sputter and go out. We were in and out of there before they knew what had hit them. It could happen to anybody. They were good soldiers and just happened to get caught by surprise, by sixteen boys from Fox Company. You think of Chinese soldiers as boiling all around you like fire ants, but once you get into their trench line, not even the Chinese army can put up a front wider than one man.
Neap said, "I don't talk service no more," but he didn't hang up on me. Sometimes they do, it being so late at night when I call. Mostly they're glad to hear from me and we'll sit in the dark and talk service for a long time. I sit here in the dark at the library desk smoking my Camels and I think they sit in the dark too, on the edges of their beds with their bare feet on the floor.
I told Neap service was the only thing I did talk, and that I had the keys now and was talking service coast to coast every night. He said his house was in bad shape. His wife had something wrong with her too. I didn't care about that stuff. His wife wasn't on the Fox Company Raid. I didn't care whether his house was level or not but you like to be polite and I asked him if his house was sinking even all around. He said no, it was settling bad at the back, to where they couldn't get through the back door, and the front was all lifted up in the air, to where they had to use a little stepladder to get up on their front porch.