The Highway

We loaded all of our equipment into a truck, piled in, and hit QL 19 for Pleiku.  Prime ambush sites were everywhere, especially as we travelled higher up into the mountains.  The tall grass at the side of the road, the thick shrub, the tree-covered ridges – all were perfect places to snipe, lob grenades, or launch mortars from.  In our hefty vehicle, we felt like a sitting duck – and very, very alone.  We were nervous and jumpy from the moment we hit the highway.

The debris on the side of the road left by earlier run-ins with the VC didn't help our spirits much either.  At the Hairpin, we were startled by a pillar of armored jeeps.  Thank God they were friendlies.  They gave us an escort, two jeeps in front, two behind.  Here's one of them – that's an M60 machine gun mounted in the back.

Man, were we grateful...

A chunk of an Army truck, a deuce-and-a-half, just like ours, sat on the side of the road.  It was the rear axle, plus the bed, or what was left of it anyway.  Charred, with rust the color of blood, it looked like a wounded animal, some sort of weird sacrifice.  Scraps of tire tread were scattered nearby.

“Not cool,” Jessen mumbled as we rolled on.

My mouth was dry.  I took a swig of Kool-Aid from my canteen.  It didn't help.

I was scared, but I didn't want to think about it.

“Hold tight,” Dirks said after another mile.  “Here comes the Hairpin.”

We leaned into each other as Dirks rounded the snug U, narrow enough for only a single vehicle.

“What the hell?”  Sergeant. locked up the brakes. 

In front of our vehicle, a pillar of four armored jeeps rocketed straight for us, their M60 machine guns manned, windshields glinting.  We could just make out the white stars on the doors – friendlies, Army. 

"I hope they see us," I blurted.   They didn't seem to be slowing.  "There's nowhere for us to move but down."

"A long way down," Ioli added.

At the very last moment, the jeeps skidded to a stop in front of us, their tires smoking. 

Dirks jumped out and dashed over to the lead jeep.  He exchanged a few words with the driver, then climbed back in wearing a smile.  “Relax, gentlemen, our escort has arrived.”

“Escort?" Ioli asked.  "Like a convoy?"

Dirks nodded as he checked and re-checked his rifle.  “Seems things have been jumpin’ up here the last few days.   He says it’s been quiet so far today.  They’re Roadrunners, B Company, 504th MP Battalion.  Highway patrol.  He said they swept the road for mines first thing this morning, but they want to bring us into Pleiku, just in case.”

"Mines?"  I didn't know why I was surprised.  Hadn't we heard over and over what to expect?  But talk was one thing.  Being there was different.

“Escort sounds good to me.”  Sugden slouched lower under the canopy.

The Roadrunners backed up a bit and let us through. 

We fell in, two jeeps in front, two behind.

Rock 'N' Roll Soldier: A Memoir by Dean Ellis Kohler with Susan VanHecke, foreword by Graham Nash  •  © 2023