Darker Than Dark
Darker Than Dark
The Inescapable Darkness
While we learned that to live others may die, we came to accept that. War did that to us .
-Marine Private First Class Brad Clary
M arine Corporal Dark Pale Thunder squinted his eyes almost shut and then quickly opened them wide and blinked twice. Nothing. Shaking his head to clear his vision he blinked again. Still he saw nothing. His world at that moment was one of total darkness. He tried again to discern something, anything, in the murky night. Squinting and blinking one last time he again saw nothing. Now he was satisfied with the darkness. It was darker than dark.
Darkness was sometimes his friend; sometimes his enemy. Now it was his ally. On Vietnam night ambushes there was a degree of relief in the black darkness of the mountainous triple canopy jungles in the far northern area of South Vietnam near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
Sometimes the darkness was unnerving, but Corporal Thunder knew survival depended on controlling emotions. He was an Oklahoma Osage Indian and the dark nights on the plains and prairies accustomed him more than most to the darkness. He was comfortable with nature and the outdoors. They were kindred spirits to him, but in war the darkness caused certain discomforting emotions despite familiarity. He was only 19 years old, yet the oldest and most experienced Marine in his four-man team. The team trusted and depended on him. He was the team's leader.
Darkness was one chilling description of the lonely mountainous jungles. Deadly was another. Both descriptions applied to Corporal Thunder's fire team of Marines who lay prone, silent, and fearful in ambush positions along the treacherous and taunting jungle trail. Dense bamboo thickets, shoulder high elephant grass, forests of giant broad leafy trees, and tangled vines obscured light even in daylight. The indigenous and fiercely independent Montagnards, known as "Mountain People," referred to the mountainous jungles as "Crouching Beasts." The mountains and jungles were poised to pounce. Chilling and deadly aptly described this nighttime drama Corporal Thunder's team experienced during ambushes in this remote area of Vietnam.
Individually, they grappled to overcome the darkness, silence, and fear. The struggle was like the steady drumbeat of a funeral procession. The deathly drone wore on them. The Corporal's nerves throbbed, but he fought the urge to twitch as he remained motionless. Private First Class (PFC) Brad Clary's haunting stare into nowhere revealed the depth of his exhaustion. Fatigue swept over the tired aging lines of PFC Dominic Hawkins' teenage face. Lance Corporal (LCpl) Aaron Wiley sweated profusely as salty flavors dripped onto his quivering lips.
Clary burrowed into the wet foliage and soft mud to wrestle into a comfortable position, but there was no comfort on jungle ambushes. He was a 19-year-old Southern Californian much more at home on beaches and athletic fields with adoring young ladies and cheering crowds than muted mountainous trails. Attending one year of college on a football scholarship caused the team to nickname him "Socrates." He was the team's intellect and idealist .
The jungle was as eerily silent as it was dark. Clary endeavored to open his ears with a wide yawn and repeated clicks and stretches of his jaws. His sense of hearing in the darkness was critical to survival. He cupped his palm over his ears one at a time and pressed gently to create a vacuum to clear his hearing. At home he would have welcomed noise, especially the pounding waves of the surf or the blasting music of a Beach Boys tune. In Vietnam, however, he was comforted more by silence than by noise. Now he heard nothing, which was exactly what he preferred the enemy hear-nothing. Silence and surprise were critical to successful ambushes.