Rocks on the Roof

by Randy Harritan

Neil Banlow, Harry's best friend with whisky on his breath and mischief on his mind, needed a companion. He explained that they should throw rocks on the tin roofs of the other War Dog hooches and yell incoming. What a great idea, slurred Harry. They'd just finished celebrating the platoon sergeants rotation back to the States with whiskey and steaks and it was late.

Banlow, Harry's best friend gave him the moniker Harry. He had been a school principal before being drafted and was uncharacteristically a joker. His girlfriend and some of her friends, male and female, sent full frontal nude pictures of themselves to Banlow on occasion.  He would share them with Harry while providing vignettes of who was who. Banlow waxed poetic about his love for this girl who was, by the way, gorgeous and told Harry that he would marry her when he got home. Harry never asked who the best man would be but the thought made him snicker. Harry, a hay-seed from North Carolina, had seldom ventured outside his hometown city limits before being drafted but was enthralled by his new environment. He'd never seen Paris but, still, you'd never get him back on the farm.

The stoning idea seemed good but first they needed to set fire to the piss tubes. These were plywood enclosures around a half buried pipe thrust into the ground and used as urinals. One for each Dog Platoon. This, in Harry's mind, would make it more realistic.

A full moon watched the pair creep to the motor pool on drunken feet and collect a mixture of diesel fuel and kerosene to splash on the plywood walls. They were lit and rocks were thrown.


All the hooches, except the 50th platoon, emptied quickly with half-dressed guys running to defensive positions. With the crapulent perpetrators giggling in the background, the piss tube enclosures were extinguished and order was restored.

Sherlock Holmes' half sister could figure out the guilty party was from the 50th and only two of those jokers smelled of kerosene. So, as they say, it was elementary. Neither could figure out why they thought this a good idea the night before but the damage was done and someone must pay. They confessed in the true tradition of the United States Army, besides everybody knew it was them.

The punishment was quick and severe. Banlow and Harry were to burn the shit for the next week. This was accomplished by dragging the cut-off drums from under the outhouse, mixing the contents with kerosene and diesel fuel and burning it to ashes. The problem being it needed to be stirred constantly for full consumption. A Papa-San, assigned to do this was paid $30.00 a month, a very good salary. In fact, in the top ten percent, not counting President Thieu or Nguyen Cao Ky, who stirred a different kind of shit.

The next day, with the tropical sun as sultry as Brigette Bardot and the sky as blue as a jazz singer, the crapulent pair sulked off to fulfill their mission.

In pigeon English and sign language the rogue pair told the Papa-Son the Lieutenant was number ten and was taking the man's job and assigning it to them. In the Vietnanese/American vernacular things were either number one, very good; or number ten, very bad. Never anything in between. The Vietnamese, if they were really upset would insert American vulgarities, and call you number hucking ten. They couldn't pronounce F's. They explained they didn't want the job but had no choice.

The Papa-San assumed a defensive stance with his shit stirring pole and wouldn't allow the pair anywhere near the barrels. When the Lieutenant came to check on them, the Papa-San chased him around the hooches until he climbed aboard his jeep and sped away in a cloud of red dust, all the while being pursued by a screaming five foot Dink waving a shit pole.

The next day the Lieutenant confronted the two innocent and cherub-faced men. They stood at full attention, arms at their sides, fingers folded, thumbs lying in the crook of their index finger, eyes slightly elevated in the illusion it made them look more angelic. No one was fooled. A new punishment was meted out for the rock throwing episode. They were to fill the shower barrels by hand for the rest of the week. Certainly they couldn't screw this up. A tank of water was dropped near the shower and the two men were put to work hauling water with buckets up a rickety homemade ladder to the roof.

The company shower was fed from three 55 gallon barrels mounted atop a rudimentary building with pallets for the floor to allow the run-off. They were normally filled by a pumper truck. The barrels had immersion heaters, a device fired by kerosene, designed by the Army to heat water to wash dishes in the field. Hot water being the only thing that would clean the greasy pots. The heaters were normally fired off at 1600 hours.

After filling the barrels only half-full the two decided it was plenty of water for the evening scrub-fest and lit the immersion heaters. It was only 1300 hours but by lighting them now they could take the rest of the day off. Besides, doing it right was never an option. The 50th Platoon was warned not to take showers that night.

Banlow and Harry were at the kennels when the first of the showers were taken. The screams and yells of the lobster colored men coming from the showers was enough to wake the dead. The co-conspirators looked at each other and wondered if they'd gone too far. Hoping that no one was really hurt, they decided to stay with the dogs rather than venture back to the hooches. Discretion being the better part of that scenario. 

The next day the two were ordered to load up and go to the forward fire base and await a mission assignment. The Lieutenant knew that the fire base was the proverbial briar patch but this move was more humanitarian than punishment. He knew that if these two stayed in base camp any longer they might be killed by members of their own unit.