The Poncho Liner

By Dave Stromire

Echo 2/1 í68-69

 

 

   If not for war, booby traps and the Leper Colony the Riviera would live up to its name.  White sandy beaches drifting back inland through pine trees, and then dropping off into rice paddy's and hedgerows.  The only village in that area was a Leper Colony off limits to the Marines and Arvinís, and Koreans who had taken many casualties, from booby traps and snipers, on nearly a daily bases.

 

†† This Made the Leper Ville a haven for the VC to sneak out and lay there booby traps, use there hit and run tactics and ambushes from.  They would hit us with sniper fire, and then retreat to the Leper Colonies protected sanctuary. All around that ville was an awful stench.  While on ambushes and patrols we would keep a very keen eye on that ville.  It was a common ritual, when the roosters crowed; villagers would come out to the edge of the trees every morning to relieve them selves.††

 

†† Unaware of a squad of Marines lurking near by they would then cover it up and slip back into the tree lines. After many years of this, you can only imagine how bad that smell was.  We could be several clicks away and still not avoid the smells of the Leper Ville.

 

†† There was one hot day, when Echo Company was running patrols around and near the area of the Leper Ville. It is a day that I will never forget. It was the Day, I told myself that I will never use a nickname again, or at least until I got to know the Marine and his real name.

 

††† It was very hot at midday we set up a CP, in the shades of the Pines with a cool ocean breeze. We had one squad out running a patrol, while the rest of us took a long appreciated break.

 I was buddied up with Chief. This was his nickname for obvious reasons. I think it just has been a tradition. Not out of disrespect, but respect. I think anyone who has been in a war.  Has always had one or two Native Americans called Chief. My only regret was. I did not take the time to ask Chief his real name. We were close and got along real well.  To this day, I ask myself why?

 

 I had tied my Poncho liner between two small pine trees for shade. Chief took the sunny side of the liner. He took his shirt off and laid down to soak in the Sun. I pulled out an old magazine from my pack. I set up in the shade, and started thumbing through the pages. Chief asked, hey Dave, when your done with that Magazine, could you pass it to me? I said Sure Chief.  Being a polite sort of fellow and not much for reading.  I quickly thumbed through the pages so that I could give Chief a chance of reading it. Before the Patrol got back and we had to go out.

 

  I said hear ya go Chief, as I slipped the magazine beneath the poncho liner. I laid down to nap. Chief set up to read. Then not one minute went by, when I heard that familiar crackle of sniper fire. One stupid burst! That gook wasn't even aiming!  He just pulled the trigger on an AK, and swept our position.  Immediately my squad was ordered to get on line and rush an open area to the next tree line. From where the shots were fired. Each one of us firing on the run, but by the time we got to the tree line the snipers were gone. Melted back into the Leper Colony.

 We rushed back to the CP. to see what damage had been done.

  

†††† That is when I saw the Corpsman and a few other Marines, holding Chief down. He was shot in the head and he kept ripping his dressings off. It was really hard to see him in so much pain. It must have taken five of us to hold him, and keep him from ripping his bandages off until the chopper arrived. After his Medevac, and we watched as the chopper tilted and made its turn, back towards First Med.  Is when I noticed my Poncho liner. I don't remember how many holes there was. But I did noticed one thing, the bullet holes in my Poncho were in the center and head high. I flashed on how; I had just been setting up, and Chief lying down. If I had took the time to even read a short story, in that magazine.Well I just hated that Poncho Liner.

 

††† Rumors came back later. That Chief had died, at First Med. The rumors have NEVER been confirmed to ME. My guilt, my anger at my self is that. I will never know because I never took even one moment. To ask that Marine hero, Hey brother, I know we call you Chief, but what is your name anyway? I carried that poncho liner in my thoughts until the day I was medevaced. I carry the guilt still.

 

 

†† Message from Dave:Anyone who may read this, and remember that day, or know who I am talking about I would really love to know where and WHO, Chief is, because I still believe he survived. I just know.