I’m taking a short break from the Triple Crown posts to talk about way back when I got one of those all-expense paid trips to sunny Southeast Asia. I even got paid to take it. In fact the US Army decided I would have so much fun they let me stay an entire year in Viet Nam under their Fun, Travel, Adventure (FTA) program.
I spent a few months as a grunt (infantryman) then managed to pick up a transfer to an intelligence unit (Don’t say it. I’ve heard every joke there is about Army and intelligence.). As a grunt you have some free time, but not a lot. In intelligence you had more, but it tended to come in spurts. Some days there was just nothing to do, other days you worked your backside off. When we had time off one of the things we did was play ball at a field some engineers had constructed in the middle of the post. There was a backstop, a couple of benches, and a little shed where they kept the bases and the chalk to line the base paths. That was all there was, but it was good enough for us (What? You were expecting Yankee Stadium in the Nam?).
Enter the 1968 Tet Offensive. We got hit hard. The Viet Cong launched an attack on the base that turned out very badly for them (8′ guns will do that to you). Preliminary to that we were mortared heavily. It was about 1 in the morning when the rounds started falling and we were all in bed. Everyone made it safely to the nearest bunker where we waited out the mortar attack. Try envisioning a half-dozen men, some of them kids trying to be men, sitting around in a sandbagged dirt bunker in nothing but their t-shirts, undies, boots (no socks), and steel hats holding onto an M-16 and a clip or two of ammunition and you get the drift of what it was like. With the mortar rounds done and the attack repelled, we ended up back in tents where we normally slept. The tent where I slept (with 5 other guys) was shredded. I had shrapnel on my bunk, inside my spare boots, on top of my footlocker. One guy’s locker was trashed but his baseball glove survived. In fact there was a big piece of shrapnel nestled in the pocket. Trust me, a ball looks better in there.
The next morning we wandered around trying to assess damage and a bunch of us ended up at the ball field. It had been hit too, the shed was ripped to shreds, the chalk blowing out onto the field. There was a big hole at third base where a mortar round was “safe” on a close play. The outfield boasted a couple of holes, the backstop had a piece of shrapnel hanging on it. All this led one of the guys with me to ask ,”They mortared the ballyard?”
Of course they mortared the ballyard, you idiot. Hell, they mortared the whole damned post, including my bunk. But somehow it was more awful that they’d hit the ball field. Me? I’m a legit target, but the ballyard?
Turns out that we captured one of the mortarmen a few days later. I got to sit in on the interrogation (and, no, we didn’t waterboard). We had a good translator and midway through the interview he started laughing. Well, that threw everybody else. Want to let us in on the gag, slick? According to the prisoner they had managed to mortar the base so effectively because one of the members of his unit knew that the distance between bases in baseball was 90 feet and they were able to gauge the distance between points on post by comparing it to the baseball diamond (apparently they had pictures).
So there we were enjoying ourselves in a happy ball game and all the time we were assisting the Viet Cong in setting their mortar ranges. Mortar the ballyard? Of course you mortar the ballyard. Damned traitor of a ballyard.