Other than actually being under fire, the worst aspect of Viet Nam was the night mortar attack. They happened sporadically, did some damage (knocked the heck out of some places and left other areas of the base totally alone), and messed with your sleep. One of the biggest problems with them was that they required a certain amount of neatness to be maintained (Didn’t know the US Army subscribed to “Good Housekeeping”, did you?). You just couldn’t leave junk strewn around the place because a mortar attack in the dark required a mad scramble to the bunkers without benefit of lights and anything in the way could be a disaster.
We only had one bat in the unit. A lot of the guys had gloves, someone had scrounged (which is GI talk for stolen) a set of catcher’s gear, but we only had the one bat. When you had time off, frequently you’d head to the local scratched out baseball diamond (the one mentioned in the post on mortaring the ballyard) to see if you could get a game started or to see if you could join a game already in progress. The unwritten rule was that you brought all the equipment you had because there was almost never an excess of it. That meant the guys from my unit showed up with gloves, a full set of catcher’s equipment (and became the toast of the ball field), a few balls, and one lousy bat.
So in May of 1968 we went to bed as usual but some dimbulb left the bat on the floor by the door. You know what’s coming, don’t you? Yep. We got hit, dove for the door, and one of the least dextrous members of the unit had his foot find the bat (no, it wasn’t me). He went flying, the bat went flying, the rest of us went flying out of the way to keep from being hit by either. He was OK and all of us made it to the bunker safely. When Charlie was through knocking around the base, we got back to the bunks, flipped on some flashlights, and there it was. The bat had managed to fly up against one of the metal lockers and had a big crack down around the handle.
We tried taping it. Despite MacGyver, duct tape is not the universal cure-all it’s touted to be. Same with glue. So now we were short our only bat. We went over to the USO to see if they had one. Of course they didn’t. We checked out division supply. The conversation went something like this: (As usual, all conversations have been cleaned up from GI English.)
“We ain’t got one.”
“Too much space on the transport. They gotta bring guns and ammo and stuff. Besides, which would you rather have bullets or bats?”
“Whattya mean, bats? Don’t you know we’re in a war zone?”
“How the heck do you think our bat got broke, dimwit?”
We had a guy named Griffin who was our maintenance specialist. Whatever piece of Army equipment we had, he could fix. Well, the bat wasn’t GI issue so he couldn’t fix it. He did, however, have an idea. He was from some small town near Lubbock, Texas and knew a lot of people in the town, including the guy who ran the sporting goods store. So he wrote him a letter asking if he’d be willing to send us a bat and we’d collect some money and send it to him. Took about a month, but we got a reply. A big box came addressed to Griff from Texas Tech University. Inside were five brand new bats. It seems the sporting goods guy was an alum of Tech and went to the ball coach with the letter. The coach got the AD (or at least somebody fairly high up in the administration) to authorize the purchase and shipping of five new bats to sunny Southeast Asia.
We sent both the University and the sporting goods guy a thank you note (and, no, we didn’t promise to “kill a Commie” for them). Four of the bats were still being used when I left in September. The fifth was kept in the unit orderly room (that’s the main office for those of you not familiar with the Army) where it was displayed along with the note from Texas Tech. I don’t know what happened to any of them after I left. The unit no longer exists (dumped when the Army contracted several years ago) and I always wondered who ended up with the trophy bat (I presume the others were broken somewhere along the way).
I was tempted to attend Texas Tech after I got out of the Army in 1971 and I still root for them from time to time when they show up on TV in a sporting event. Sometimes I wish I had, but I met my wife at the other school. So it all worked out for the best. BTW I did a lot better job finding a wife than she did a husband.