In The Shadow War | By: Steve McCue | | Category: Short Story - Military Bookmark and Share

In The Shadow War

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Stephen M. Mccue A Novel excerpt
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What we did, I mean what our jobs were out there on Kashikoa Island, was to sit down there in that tomb with the headphones on, copying down every morse coded signal the Cong transmitted. When they were finished, we'd wrap it all up on that six ply paper and thin mag tape and pump it right into our friendly computer SIBIL's vein. Terrance, who loved and nurtured SIBBIE said the brass got pissed: seems old Charlie in Namie Nam land has got smart and wired the whole jungle into one big antenna. Fast SIBIL goes and ordered out the B-52's on a strike and they layed in all those bombs and all they did was shred a bunch of rubber trees and deplete the monkey population by a tribe or two. That's pretty expensive monkey meat, even for one of old LBJ's down-home barbecues.

Ernie, who had his security clearance lifted for not paying alimony, and was stuck doing dull filing over in the Orderly Room, right under the nose of the CO and First Sergeant, well he said the Colonel was on the horn to the big guys at the National Security Agency every day trying to explain away why we couldn't pinpoint the VC for the big bird 52's.

"Shee-it, Sir, the gol darned, scuz buckets got a switchboard over there. Plug in and out and screw up all our operators who are listenen' for them. We're gonna' get 'em though. We'll do it. We're gonna' send
home the coonskin just as soon as we triangulate and strangulate them Mccue (Shadow War) 2

chink suckers."

Ernie could mimic the old man damn well considering he was from Biloxi Mississippi and old Ern was from Cherry Hill New Jersey. He was so damned sincere, I just couldn't believe he doesn't pay his alimony and was our number one, itchie bon, beloved drug dealer.

Kraut threw down his headphones onto the counter and we all swung away from our consoles and watched him.

"Divining rods," he said, as he looked up at the steel ceiling of the compound and he ran his hands through his slicked hair.

"You just have to tie a fly by its leg to a skinny willow twig.
Just hand it over to the bombardier and when they go over area that fly is gonna' start flappin' and figitin' and that's when you let them bombs fly. I never saw a fly that didn't want to get to the shit and quick. Bomb 'em right back to the stone age. Right Mack?"

He looked at me. Kraut always looked at me after he said something stupid. He knew I respected him. I was the only one who understood that he lived by bugs and his senses.

Kraut's preaching woke old Sergeant Honsaker at the end of the line of consoles. He lifted his head and looked down the line of his charges until he spotted Ernie.

"Slug kisser," he said in a controlled growl. "You ain't supposed

to be in here no more."

All twenty-seven of us in the back to back rows of radio receivers waved one finger salutes in defiance of our operational leader. The air was dead with smoke and torn by static from the headphones. Only 3

practiced ears could have recognized the spurts of code in the din. In this noise we begin to chant the song of our generation.

"Hell no, we won't let him go."

We were safe, anonymous in our rare unity. We felt healthy fighting back, even if the enemy was a beaten, alcoholic Sergeant who wanted only peace and harmony with his grandchildren. Honsaker put his head back down on the desk. He knew most of us are Ernie's customers. He will not fight the best connected pusher on the base. He muttered atus from under his squashed face.

"Back to work scum baggers."

There was an instant hum of activity. He is being obeyed. He felt ripples of controlling authority returning in the madness that surrounded him.

Kraut started toward him but I reached out and grabbed a handful of T shirt and hauled him back down on his chair.

"Easy, old friend. Save your parables for those who will listen and understand."

Kraut knew I had his best interests in mind. The will to convertthose who did not understand flowed out of his eyes. He took his headset plug and pushed the tip up his nose.

"I am the antenna and the receiver. I hear evil. I smell evil. I speak evil."

"Nice. Uh, huh. Sure you do. Let's work," I said. I would have done most anything to quiet him. He was an ass, but he was our ass.

He began to copy his man somewhere over the South China Sea and I listened for mine too. Kraut stopped suddenly and reached into his pocket Mccue (Shadow War) 4

and handed me a crumpled, unopened letter. All Kraut's letters are unopened and unseen. He fears the classic "Dear John" letter not from a sweetheart but from his high school principal.

"I just know they never told him why I left school."

He had left school, he had told me under inebriated circumstances, to make the world safe for democracy. They had just finished the chapter on World War I and Kraut had taken it to heart. He saw the Vietnam war as his own crusade, from his own point of view.

But before I could open the envelope, Ernie moved behind me and patted me on the head. He looked up the row at Honsaker and made a V with his fingers. Several guys applauded. They love him and his funny products.

Honsaker came alive. Blood shot up his neck. He stood, hauled in his gut and popped out his chest. He was a soldier again, ready for a fight.

"Commie, hippie, freak," he yelped.

Ernie looked down at me. He was happy. He had gotten the reaction that he'd wanted and now he moved away, fast. Direct confrontation was not his forte. Hit and run and run were his tactics and the hypertensed Sergeant could only stand there and shimmer in his hate. He could never catch the alimony welching, Cherry Hill pusher, who was our pal and supplier.

I opened Kraut's letter. A whiff of Channel #5 reminded me of the girls I'd left behind who would never talk to me.

Mccue (Shadow War) 5

Dear Cuzzie,

This is going to be a very formal letter. I am not going to tell you that everything is marvie here at Berkeley and that I have made many new friends. I am not going to tell you that everything, really everything, is super gooper and that I still love you. I'm not going into that at all. I want to tell you important stuff. Stuff that will make you squirm like a germ. See how this sounds tootsie.

The very conscience of our nation cries out to us all to stop being tools of the Imperialist lackies in Washington. Now is that Marxonian or what? I'm telling you Wickie, I may have to sacrifice our cousinship for my new ideals and I will. But I probably won't. After all, there is Uncle Barry's position in Washington to be considered. You know honey, I do so love words like that. I've been making plans, big plans, and baby you are right in the center of them.

Love and liberation. Your cousin.


P.S. Mom says hi, and to tell you to share the brownies with the other boys.

"Nice, nice paper," I told Kraut. "She's dunking it in rosewater now. I think it's a lot sexier smell than that other stuff she was using."

I gave him back the letter. There wouldn't be any problem with him reading it. Old Myrna had written him at least once a month since we'd been here and that was almost a year now. She always had some new idea or philosophy that she was espousing. So he was used to her. It Mccue (Shadow War) 6

wouldn't send him into depression.

"She loved me Mack. Before I left home, she did. Now there is only this. I told her to go to the University of Chicago, not Berkeley. Chicago is full of intellectual stimulation and good honest American vigor and beauty. Berkeley is full of Haydens and Fondas and telegrams from Mario Savio. There are Panthers and SDS and..."

"No, damn it Kraut," I cut him off. "It's the same everywhere now. There isn't a college in the country that is free of it."

His eyes were wide, innocent. He believed me. It is important to me that he always believed me.

"I must arrange for a place for her to stay. Do you think they'll allow her in the Officer's Quarters?"

"She is just teasing you. Can't you see that? She's not going to come out here. Not a chance."

"Myrna will come. If she wants to, she will. This is a war zone and that will bring her."

He put his head down on the face of his RF 390 Collins receiver and blindly spun the dials, slipping through frequencies, running past the poundings of a thousand fists pulsing out coded messages from anywhere to somewhere. I had nothing left to say to him. I went back to work.

Behind us, Terrance, our computer's lover, paced, waiting. He studied the copy in everyone's typewriter.

"SIBIL is hungry boys. She needs goodies." He stopped in back of the slumping Kraut.

"Kraut-Krud. Everything you turn out is called that. You can't help us boy if your snuggling your little receiver. You must love it Mccue (War Shadows) 7

I can relate man. Cool man, really shrapnel sharp." There was a silk, slippery quality to Terrance's voice. He sounded like a wet rag being wiped over a formica table. You just wanted a squeak or a scratch or something.

"Lay off him Terry," I told him. "I've got plenty of good stuff for you. It will save old Sibbie from becoming an electronically malnourished pile of transistors. I wouldn't want her to lose all her silicon goodies."

"You mean food like this?" he asked picking up Myrna's letter.

"Shithead," I say and mean it. I ripped off several sheets of six ply and threw it at him. He held up the letter in one hand and my copy in the other.

"Awww, sweet aroma for man in this hand and filling, nutritious food for a fine machine in the other. Manna for all."

"It's the 47th Regiment Terry. You remember them, don't you? Some of the NVA's finest and headed straight for the jarines holed up in Khe Sahn."

Terrance was no longer being frivolous. He put down the letter and studied the copy I'd handed him. He is, by title, a Traffic Analyst and understood the importance of what I've just told him. From my amateur calculations, and I will admit that a lot of it is gut feeling, backed by bearings from direction finding stations on Okinawa and Thailand, I suspected that North Vietnam's best are moving into the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Vietnam. Large and important people all over the Far East and in the general vicinity of Washington D.C. will be intently interested in this fact. They will be so interested that they Mccue (Shadow War) 8

will dispatch the best in bombers that we own to destroy them.

When Terrance became excited, the pigment from his red hair seeped into his eyes. The rest of his face would stay calm, but his eyes exploded into a terrible fury.

"It's not SIBIL's fault. Nothing is. It's all human error. She tells us everything, but we learn nothing."

Terrance moved away. I hoped I could be spared the full brunt of his tirade. That was not to be. He spun around and stared at me.

"You know what it means Mack, her very name? Statistical, Information, Base, Intelligence & Logistical. Got it? And you know she's going to win this war. We're going to crush the Cong and their primitive, paltry technology."

He leaned over and whispered to me. "People don't deserve to win against machines Mack. We build things as we want them to be. To be better than we are. More true and pure than anything we humans can be. Our machines include the best of our philosophy and only the best."

There was another factor to be considered when you were forced to deal with Terrance beside his temper. Terrance had putrid breath. Food festered in the crevices of his mouth and created sour mustard gas. I tried to get away from him. It was no use.

"Even her name Mack is patriotic. It's pure genius. She's named for Sibil Ludington. I sure of it. She warns us just as little Sibil took her ride in Danbury Connecticut and warned the people back then. She was a hero of the revolution Mack. The female Paul Revere, that was, is the truth. I know it."
Mccue (Shadow War) 9

He hovered over me, and dippped down with his face to make a point. I was becoming seriously ill. Finally, I'd had enough. I become violent for two reasons: personal assault, and human ignorance. Terrance has fulfilled both requisites. I was bearing both now.

"Who on God's earth cares?" I yelled. It worked. He retreated two giant steps.

"I care. I care for her and her feminine logic that will win this war for us. She is just like that patriotic Sibil. She'll shout to us what must be shouted. She'll spread what has to be..."

I lashed out at him with my headset. I came at him with my chair lifted over my head.

"Just another adding machine. That's all it is. Semi-conducters and chips and quartz and..." I caught hold of myself. This was foolish. Terrance savored fights like this. He enjoyed them and I knew it. I had fallen into his trap again. I backed up, put my chair down and clamped back on my headset. I was back to work. I was listening to the airwaves, not Terrance. But he continued behind me.

"The 47th is up again," I said to him gently. "We can save this until later when we can both enjoy it."

He was quiet. He turned and walked off. He studied the copy on other positions, pimping for for his lover. The sheer pleasure of fighting would wait until later.

I didn't want to hear the 47th again. I changed frequencies and began copying a North Korean weather station for practice. The operator had an unusual way of pounding our an X morse. He could make it sound like he was telling anyone listening "Cry baby cry". Somehow listening to his mournful slow sending, with its careful features, fit my mood. I Mccue (Shadow War) 10

had spent the last five months copying the 47th Regiment. I knew each one of their operator's sending fists so well that I could tell them all apart and had even given them names like Moe, Harpo and Zeppo. I could feel their personalities, their likes and dislikes, and often I would chat with Kraut about whether they had families or not.

We were curious about them all. Did they know that we were here,

listening and knocking down on six ply paper every letter they sent?

The RF 390 Collins's receiver and the direct input into the Direction Finding antenna were probably more expensive than all the communications equipment in the entire 47th Regiment. Good God, I had access to recon aircraft which could fly in and check any spot in the my area to confirm what I found on the airwaves. There were microwave sensing devices that could be dropped if I thought the area was a promising candidate for healthy intelligence.

This was only part of the technical, electronic wizardry which connected me, an audio voyeur, to blessed SIBIL. And everyone knew that Sibbie had the ear of the greats of our land. She had all the answers to all the questions about the North Viets and the Cong. She knew if they had enough rice, meat or bullets. She even knew who a lot of their people were and had a handle on their morale. Me, I had my own ideas about who was over their.

I knew they were grunts, just like us. The radio operators were teachable slobs like us here in the compound. They had been taught to listen and would never have to fire a shot in anger, unless they were caught off guard. I wondered if they were like me and being peaceable was the way they liked it, safe, with all limbs in tact.Mccue (Shadow War) 11

But I wasn't safe from this night. It had to be faced and dealt with. This was my war.

I hated the swing shift especially. It was the shortest one, going from three to eleven, but by the time you got off work every broad in the village had hooked up with some other GI for the night. Since there was a strict curfew at midnight, there was hardly enough time to throw down a Bami-bam beer. And since my little Mitchie had kicked me out of the house, the only thing I could do was to wander back up to the barracks and try to fall asleep in the suffocating heat. Dull as hell.

So I would wait out the last hour and a half hoping the 47th wouldn't bother me again. But I knew they would. They were on the move and that meant they needed direction and guidance from their headquarters, so they were always transmitting and we were always listening.

Kraut farted. A loud hiss that sizzeled and then floated into the close air of the compound. I backed away trying to get out of range.

Honsaker popped to his feet: "You're a pig Kapperstein."

I was sickened too and waved my hands trying to clear the air. Kraut had another stored bomb and now that he had the old Sarge's attention, he would drop it for sure.

Poor, old Honsaker, a crummy Tech Sergeant at forty seven, stuck with a bunch of smart-ass kids on this crummy island. No wonder he was a drunk. Most of us leave him alone, but his superiors didn't have the same go along, get along attitude. They do not believe life should be tranquil at all.

Leader of the team of disrupters is our Colonel, Grint Hadley Mccue (Shadow War) 12

O'Donnell, ex tank corp, transferred involuntarily to the low life of Air Force Security Service. He is a mad man who wanted only to rise one or two ranks in the service of his country. I believed he meant to use us as the ladder.

The Colonel always dropped by near the end of each shift checking to see that all the little chores that he had dictated were carried out. Often he was not in a kind and generous mood.

With his service cap tucked under his arm and his uniform immaculate over sparkling shoes and razor creased pants, he paused in the doorway so that we could get the full effect of his presence. He spoke as if he had gone to the George S. Patton school of soldiering.

"You fuckers," he bellowed in his fresh ground beef voice. He pulled out his 45 automatic and leveled it at Honsaker's skinned head. This night would be different than most. The weapon was not part of his usual dictatorial operation. There was something terribly dangerous about him and I ducked down in my chair.

"Not one. You assholes didn't pinpoint one bamboo sucking chink. They didn't get any body count at all."

Honsaker blinked wildly and nervously blew his nose.

Kraut threw his headphones down on the console. He jumped to his feet and yelled: "Ten-hut!"

The Colonel turned the gun and pointed it at the respectful Kraut standing at full attention. He looked him up and down and then spit on the floor. It was Kraut's T shirt that must have bothered the old man. It was green and tattered in several sensitive spots.
Mccue (Shadow War) 13

The Colonel walked to Kraut. Their eyes were locked together. The Colonel's tap heels clicked on the cement floor.

"It's jerks like you, I know it. It's your pure stupidity that has caused us to fail in our part of operation Rolling Thunder. Do you know or care or understand scum?"

"Yes Sir," Kraut sang out. He was smiling now. This was just like basic training. He had loved basic and had told me once that he knew he was truly loved when the Training Instructors screamed at him. I was certain he was feeling the same affection now about the Colonel.

"Nothing to show for it. Not even a dead water buffalo."

The 45 was now between their noses, open end toward Kraut. The Colonel began to wave it in a tight circle. It was as if he were deciding on the best spot to shoot him. Kraut didn't blink and then the CO sighed, and turned away. He went up toward Honsaker who was quaking at his position.

"Sir," Kraut came after him. "Read this." Kraut was still plugged into his receiver and he pulled it over on the floor behind him. The Colonel spun around, and raised the gun again. He must have thought the T shirted abberation was attacking. Kraut fell down, pulled by his cord and the Colonel fired at the spot where he had been.

Honsaker, with surprising speed, was out and down the aisle. He pushed the gun toward the ceiling before he could fire again. The second shot was safely diverted.

In our crypt, six feet below the hot Kashikoan soil, the sound was deadly, puncturing eardrums and severing already taunt nerves. And, in my case, giving me a bloody lip as I hit the floor.Mccue (Shadow War) 14

"Whoopie," Kraut screamed, standing taller and straighter than I'd ever seen him. "Incoming, incoming, hit the deck. Man the ack-ack guns. Break out the mortars."

"Treason Honsaker. This hole is full of broad Fondas."

Honsaker was blinking wildly and with excruciating slowness he let the Colonel's arm down and carefully took the gun from him. A decayed had been subtracted from what remained of the old Sarge's life. He looked like a popped paper gag when the old man spun on his heel and marched toward the door. There was a bottle of sloe-gin sticking out of his back pocket. Funny, I'd always thought that officers drank better stuff than that.

"Sergeant" O'Donnell ordered. "They do have to play ball. You understand what I mean Honsaker?"


"First thing Sergeant. I'll bring the bats."

I could feel the burning sun on my back. There was a murmur around the positions as we all considered the directive. "Play ball", sure.

There was nothing we could do to change the orders, not now.

"You are a flying, leaping, jumping, gaping....." I yelled at Kraut. "We ought to string you up by your short hairs, you know that?"

"Aw, gee Mack. I just did what I thought was right."

He recoiled and sat down, hurt by my rebuke. He knew that criticism from a friend was far different than an attack from a superior. He lifted the message from his typewriter.

"I only wanted to show him this. God Mack, he should know what they're saying over there. It would give him joy. He wouldn't have to Mccue (Shadow War) 15

treat us like we were dummies "

I read the message, hot out of his typewriter. Kraut was right. A full Colonel would enjoy it.

"applying the bandits traditional policy to achieve their objectives of placing the South Vietnamese people under their yoke and turn South Vietnam into their colony and military base. Over the last eleven years the USA had conducted more than 160,000 large and small scale mopping up operations, killed over 170,000 people and wounded and crippled...."

I threw it back onto his console. "Crap Kraut. Just worthless Cong propaganda. What the hell are you copying that stuff for? Why don't you stick to what you're suppose to be doing."

I wanted to get away from him, but he blocked my retreat with a foot under the roller on my chair.

"You don't understand. Don't you see, this could save him. If even the enemy admits that we've got a body count of 170,000 we must be doing our job right. He could send this message down to DC and they'd understand that we're really winning the war. We'd all be heroes. Top of the heapo, right?"

Kraut reasoned like a child, simple and direct. All his assumptions and deductions were logical. He could not grasp what was happening to the Colonel and see that the right sources had to say we were succeeding. The enemy's word was worth nothing. They didn't count in the bureaucratic web of which we were an outer strand. The Colonels were small spiders who often became victims of bigger ones. We were to be climbed over and tomorrow, on the ball field, we would receive our Mccue (Shadow War) 16


"You know he would love me if he saw this Mack. He would."

I was tired. I had no fight left in me. I just nodded and smiled like the nerd I was. It wasn't that I was trying to be kind to him. It was that I was sick of him and here and mostly, I had to go to the john.

I kicked his foot out of the way. Everyone was diligently back to work. Anything, even work, to make the time go by. Kraut was working too, this time on the right target. After a whizz, I poured a cup of coffee from the tarnished pot that we kept under the large tracking map used for U-2 flights into North Vietnam and Southern China. It was colored bright green and reminded me of the backdrop of games in arcades I had played as a kid. It was the national arcade pinball game. Hit and run and the sacrifice fly. Tomorrow the Colonel would try to bring it all home to us again on the field. Kraut would most likely pitch. Batter up boys. I lifted my cup in a salute to America and her games and to the fine old NVA 47th Regiment and most especially to my replacement on Delta trick who was early and coming through the steel door.

One more duty before going off duty and down to the village. Colonel, our sir, had dictated that we all diary our day. Not an official, depersonalized record, but a diary of ordinary thoughts and actions that was kept on a central desk near the compound entrance. Honsaker inspected each entry. I handed him mine. He just glanced at it and gave it right back.

"Cut the crap MacTigue. This isn't a game. The old man really goes through these you know."Mccue (Shadow War) 17

"Hey Sarge, all commas are just the right entry. Hell, every day here is nothing more than a comma in life, a checkpoint on our sentences."

"You went to college, didn't you boy? I can tell because you're so wise-ass smart. Now cut the crap and give me a paragraph, ten lines at least. Got it?"

I have no integrity when escape is at hand. I didn't argue. Honsaker had all the power, including that of the pen.

November 10, 1967

Entry Time: 2300 hours

Name: Airman First/Class Richard MacTigue

"On rising this morning," I wrote. "I noticed that the old fisherman was rowing out into Kashikoa bay. I saw him from the window in my barracks room and marvelled at the peaceful scene as he dipped his oars into the sea with his conical hat protecting him from the drizzle. I waved to him, but he doesn't or won't see me. I wonder why. Perhaps it is this benign contempt for all of us forigners, and me particularly, that endears him to me, as I stand behind the thick, bullet proof glass looking out onto the bay that runs into the South China Sea. This little man makes me feel like an officer. I suspect that my superiors feel this kind of contempt when I salute them or call them Sir. We enlisted men have a way of showing them with just our eyes what we...."

"Cut the last line," Honsaker ordered me. I obey. Kraut leaned over my shoulder and snickered.

"Use real words Mack. Don't say screw. Say fuck."

"Not in writing. It's not what I feel," I told him, poising my pen Mccue (Shadow War) 18

like a real weapon.

"Don't say either stupid. Say what I tell you and nothing else." The old Sarge is serious. I am choiceless, thus voiceless.

"I miss my home," I write, "but I am thankful for the privilege to serve my nation in its armed forces. I thank my lucky stars and stripes that I am a citizen soldier and am protecting the American way."

"Nice," Kraut said. "I like the tone of it."

Honsaker snaps up my book and puts the notebook made by Wilson & Jones; into my personal slot. It joins other scribblings from other nights and Kraut finished his too. Honsaker checks it and I realized how mad our CO really was.

"Why Sarge? Why?"

"Who cares Mack. It's just a job."

"I know," it's Kraut again. "In the big war the old man had Norman Mailer in his unit. He did, honest. He went and made millions on what he wrote and the old man always figured he deserved a piece of the action."

"Hey Kraut," I asked. "Which was the CO, naked or dead?"

We were gone. Back to the barracks for a shower and a nylon shirt and brush with Gleem. I hopped on the back of Kraut's Yamaha and we started for the village. Kraut told me that he could shut his eyes and follow his senses and get there. I believed him. Kashikoa City was full of little beings who could cause his divining rod to twist and bend. Me, I just had to follow my nose toward the open sewers that allowed this oriental city, like most of them, to be located even if you were still twenty miles out to sea. Away with Kraut we went. Away.
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