"Hey, Joe!" Is the story of a guy that wants his buddy's girl. A great song by Carl Smith.
Though we've been the best of friends
This is where our friendship ends.
I gotta have that dolly for my own."
A TIME OUT OF LIFE
Our platoon was pinned down by a VC sniper hidden on a hill at the end of the valley. No one had been able to get a hard fix on his location. It was Thanksgiving Day in 1965 but no one was eating turkey. We were in a long valley near the Phu Bai airfield trying to locate a Viet Cong force that had been sending harassing fire at planes taking off and landing.
Earlier the lieutenant had tried to send out a small patrol and the SOB picked off two of them before they even reached the tree line. The LT shook his head and walked over to where I was cleaning my rifle.
The Marines at that time were using Winchester Model 70 30.06 rifles for sniper work. This was essentially a target rifle and they had acquired a number of them over the previous decade. There were complaints that the match grade ammo would cause supply problems but for now that had been overruled. The following year would see a change to the M40, which was based on a Remington model 700-40.
I'd learned to shoot with a Winchester Model 70 30.06 growing up in the hill country of west Texas, so this was essentially the same rifle I had at home. Antelope were real spooky so you had to stand off quite a ways—and the heavy barrel was great for varmints, such as gophers. I knew what I could do with what I grew up with. The addition of the eight-power Unertl scope gave me a much longer effective range than the 2.75X Redfield scope I had at home.
"Danny, anything you can do to help us out?"
I'd been listening to the few shots the sniper had fired and I had thought a lot about the angles involved in the shots at the patrol.
"Yeah, LT, I think so. I'd guess he's within fifty yards of that clump of rocks on the left side of the valley and about half way up the hill. Put a couple of guys quartering around that area with binoculars and have them let me know if they see any movement at all."
We looked over the map and it was a good twelve hundred yards to the rocks. I'd never sighted the Winchester for more than a thousand yards.
After twenty minutes or so, Billy, the lieutenant's radio operator leaned over, "Danny, I saw something move about twenty-five yards to the upper left of the rocks." Laughing a bit nervously, he added, "Hell, it was probably just an animal or something."
"Yeah," I thought, " ... maybe."
I got in a comfortable position and turned the knob for a thousand yards. If I did find a target I'd have to wing it for the over-distance. I started at the rocks and slowly moved up and to the left, looking carefully at every inch of the terrain. Finally I saw an anomaly, a straight line. Deciding it was the barrel of the VC sniper's, rifle I moved the aiming point slightly for where his head should be located in relation to the barrel. I was assuming he was right handed ... if not, I'd miss.
There was no wind; it was dead calm and hot. I figured he was about fifty yards higher than I was and adjusted for that. Flashing back to the Sniper manual (the military had a manual for everything, even on how to dig latrines) I remembered the example. For a scope sighted for a target at 500 yards, to hit another, unsighted target at 600 yards would be a hold off of twenty-five inches. That worked out pretty good for this target since I was sighted in for a thousand yards and I was taking a shot at close to twelve hundred I wanted to shoot about fifty inches higher than where I guessed his head would be.
I breathed out to the two guys with the binoculars,"Okay, watch."
A sniper is a one shot killer. The average grunt shot upwards of fifty thousand rounds for each enemy kill ... the average sniper's number was one point three rounds—less than a quarter's worth of ammunition.
Fear played a big part in what I was doing. All too frequently I would be gently easing back on the trigger and have the sense of a VC sniper taking aim at me. I handled it—controlling my fear was the name of the game. It was all about being in the zone: managing my breathing by taking slow, steady deliberate breaths. I could feel my heart rate slow and my body coming to a completely relaxed state.
When it was right, I was one hundred per cent in the zone. For that moment time stops, I would feel alive with some nagging sense that I wouldn't be staying that way for long. That moment would seem to last forever for me ... a time out of life. Then I would pull the trigger and know I had taken a man's life.
Looking through a scope at a target is something quite personal. I would watch some guy wipe his nose with his sleeve or the sweat off his brow with his hand. Sometimes I would watch the eyes shift and I would wonder what he was thinking about ... and whether he was married and had kids. Was he looking at me ... wondering what I was thinking? Wondering if I had a wife? Sometimes I just thought too damn much. It was best to think of this as an intellectual exercise of the dynamics of trajectory, speed and the play of the elements on the bullet on its way to its own violent death.
I eased gently on the hair trigger, past images in my head of the startled leap of an antelope made when hit with a high-power rifle. In another world now, I barely heard the shot or the quick kick of the recoil. I'd held steady and had a quick flash of something falling back, streaks of red coating the clump of grass he'd been behind.
I looked over at Billy and he nodded, not saying anything. The LT put his hand on my shoulder and walked away, sending another patrol out to see if the sniper had any documents. I lay down, my head on my pack and looked at the sunlight making a dappled pattern through the trees. Lighting up a smoke my body and mind shut down. I went somewhere that no one ever went with me: a lonely place, a place of cold and ice.
I remembered what the gunnery sergeant at the sniper school told us he had heard overheard some anonymous Marine captain say to some friends in a bar one night in Saigon:
"You have to be strong enough to endure lying in the weeds day after day, letting the bugs crawl over you and bite you, letting the sun cook you and the rain boil you, shitting and pissing in your pants. Lying there because you know that Charlie's coming and you're gonna kill him."
No one spoke to me—they had learned not to. Sure, I heard what they said, "He's a cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch." A nurse I'd spent a few days with in Saigon told me my eyes were the hard blue of glacier ice ... but colder. She loved me a little but I don't think she liked me very much.
Well, hell, I knew I was cold-hearted. I never could figure out how I felt about killing people for a living. I had twenty-two kills with twenty-three bullets. The one miss was when I thought I could get an officer standing next to an enemy sniper. I took the sure shot and tried a snap shot at the officer but I'd over-compensated and missed him.
Three weeks later I'd mustered out and was flying home. My granddad was picking me up at the airport in Austin and driving me home to his ranch west of Bandera. I didn't want to come back and live in town, like I'd done before I moved to the ranch. I was now twenty-seven and starting over with my life. On the flight home I kept thinking about my skills: I could ride bulls and broncs and I knew how to kill people from a thousand yards with one shot.
BACK AT THE RANCH
Daddy Jim was standing there when I got off the plane. He was a big guy with thinning curly brown hair running to gray and a ready grin. He'd taken over most of the running of the ranch since I'd left. He gave me a hug that 'bout broke a rib or two, but damn, it felt good. It felt like he had lost none of his legendary strength during the time I'd been killing people over in 'Nam. For a guy in his early seventies, he looked damn good.
"Danny, I'm sure glad to have you home, son. You were missed around here."
I was glad to see he brought my truck to pick me up. After my folks were killed in a car crash when I was fourteen, I moved out to the ranch to live with my grandparents. I was pretty down on life and granddad could see that. He found a forty-eight Ford pickup and helped me restore it. We put a lot of time on it together and became very close.
Driving home in my truck we talked and I felt a slight easing in the pent-up tension of the last four years. Daddy Jim—we had always called him that—was one of the good guys. He was patient to a fault, never meddled; yet he always seemed to be there when anyone needed him. About a year after I moved in with them, grandma died of cancer and it was the two of us against the world.
I had a fair amount of mustering out pay—it's hard to spend money out in the boonies of 'Nam. I used some of it to help Daddy Jim get the ranch fixed up a bit. He'd mostly given up on cattle before I had moved in with him and concentrated on breeding bulls for the rodeo. It was pretty good money but more importantly it kept him happy. His animals always scored pretty well at the various rodeos.
Once a bull has shown some talent it can get entered at some of the smaller rodeos. An average bull makes two/three hundred per out in early rounds and a top bull can earn upwards of six hundred for each out in the finals. It can go as high as a hundred grand winning top bull of the year. For a bull with a good reputation each straw of semen can go for several thousand dollars.
.... There is more of this story ...