Posted by asm826 on October 24, 2006
Tom and Bill came out of the doorway as Gunny Ceisak and Sgt. Collins walked by. They waved and the Gunny stopped. Bill grinned, “How about a beer, Gunny?”
Gunny motioned up the street, “Alright, but let’s find a quieter place. I’ll buy the first round.”
“Good deal, we’ve had all the noise we need.”
They fell in together and worked their way up the sidewalk. Puddles reflected the neon signs and streetlights. All of them had been drinking for most of the evening, and the effects were obvious. Bill stumbled over a broken section of concrete, caught himself and they all laughed.
With no discussion, Gunny led them into a club. An older woman greeted them, and led them to a corner table. A few older sailors sat at the bar. A couple of them turned to look at the newcomers, nodded, and turned back to their conversations.
A younger girl came over and set four bottles in front of them.
Gunny took a long pull, leaned back, “This was the first club I ever paid a barfine out of. We sailed into Subic off of Yankee Station. We had been out there for two months. I was a Corporal.”
He shook his head, “They paid us and turned us loose. I’d never seen anything like it. We went crazy. The girls, the beer, everything was cheap, and we had four days.”
As Gunny got started, the feelings of camaraderie swept them all. The stories resonated with all their experiences in the Corps. Tom leaned forward; he had his notebook in his lap, catching the outlines and highlights.
“…no bull, we carried the Sergeant Major back aboard. He wanted to fight us all. We had a big guy, ahhh, oh hell, what was his name? Called him Bulldog, I don’t remember his name. Anyway, he finally cocked the old man on the chin…”
The stories of a lifetime, a career filled with deployments and war. Planes lost, good friends gone. Bottles piled up. Gunny’s reverie grew more serious.
“Betcha didn’t know I started out in helicopters. We were in DaNang. I had just had my 19th birthday, and was wondering if I was going to see 20. I’d been in two crashes, engine trouble once, shot down the second time. We autorotated in, landed hard in some little river. Smoke everywhere. We hit pretty hard and bailed out into the water, carrying rifles and few magazines. Water was about chest deep. You could hear people shouting, coming our way across the paddies. I just knew we were screwed. And then the other bird came back around and hovered. That pilot waited like he had all the time in the world. We piled in, and di-di’ed out of there and that was it for me. I went to the career planner the next day. Reenlisted for an air wing job.”
The dam broke then, and all his stories flowed, his time in Vietnam, the crazy things that seemed to just happen, the stories that he rarely told. The evening flowed on, all of them buoyed along in the river of Gunny’s memories. They asked questions, made a few comments, but Gunny was lost in the past, dredging the forgotten, laughing, coming up with names.
No one questioned anything, these were sea stories, and it was their privilege to be there, to hear them, and to carry an echo of them along.