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Out of the Depths

I don’t think I ever told you about the day I arrived in Vietnam on a troop transport ship. We’d spent a rough twenty-two days crossing the Pacific, including several days going nowhere while the captain tried to keep the ship headed into an oncoming typhoon. It was, at best, an unpleasant voyage, highlighted by the week I spent in bed too seasick to eat, surviving on crackers brought back by fellow officers.

Since our ship arrived at night, we anchored far out in the harbor. Flares lit the distant shores while helicopters and gunships rained down intermittent fire, blazing the way for our imminent arrival.

While others watched the brilliant fireworks in the sky, I spent most of the night gazing deep into the sea, watching sea snakes rise repeatedly out of the depths, attracted by the lights of the ship shining directly into the sea, perhaps feeding on the small fish dazzled by the sudden light. Though I’ve always been terrified of snakes, in that light, in that place, there was no fear, just a strange fascination with these deadly sea serpents rising out of the darkness below.

Feeling a little like a small fish myself, I didn’t sleep that night. As the sun rose in the East, I stood staring across the harbor at mines and half-sunken ships that had preceded us.

Finally, stripped of our accustomed tanks and armored tracks, feeling as vulnerable as a turtle without a shell, we donned our flak vests and with weapons at the ready boarded landing crafts and were taken ashore, only to be confronted by American nurses and soldiers laying on the beach sunbathing.

Faced with new dangers
our greatest fears rise
to greet us once again.