The Thing From The Sea

by Richard Denne

Next little gem I was going to keep out of ‘SORRY ABOUT THAT’ that is until

PAT Noonan RTO for Capt. Tom, told me he remembers the day but was not one of the troopers who fired their weapons at us….. Too much!

Not too long after Trung Luong, our company was camped at an old French compound overlooking a lagoon:

THE THING FROM THE SEA

The sound of the waves hitting the shore and the smell of the suntan lotion awakened me. I stared in wonder at the most seductive, well- formed body Mother Nature had created, the sea. In addition, this morning she was all mine. I sat up slowly, unable to take my eyes away from her. I rose to my feet and took a deep breath of unpolluted ocean breeze.

When my outfit crashed {fell asleep} on the beach the previous night, I did not know what I would be waking to. As I climbed to a higher vantage point and looked beneath me, I saw the vista Mother Nature had created was exquisite.

The water sparkled like diamonds in the early morning sun. Eighty-foot cliffs stood in a half moon shaped lagoon towering above the coastline.

The water appeared to be shallow but enormous in area and reminded me of the lagoon at Disneyland that housed the Submarine Ride, one of the first E-Ticket, or premier, rides at that venerable resort. Moreover, I should know, as I had worked at the resort on the Jungle Cruise Ride just before joining the army. Anyway, I would often gaze into that man made lagoon, wishing I could dive in and swim down to touch the fake coral. The Sub ride sucked; however, I would have given, all my E-tickets for a swim in that lagoon filled with rainbow colors.

This lagoon looked as if it was not more than fifteen or twenty feet deep in any one place and it stretched for hundreds of yards. The colors of the coral were iridescent tangerine, lime, reds of every shade and lighting yellow. My buddies were lollygagging about on the shore below. I scurried down the cliff and called out to them. “Anyone want to go swim with me?” They all deadpanned me as though I had asked them to follow me into a cesspool, so I started into the water alone.

“DENNE, wait up”, someone yelled. It was MACKENZIE, A KID FROM East Philadelphia. He grabbed my air mattress; then ran towards me and said; “We’ll need this for a life preserver so we can swim way out there, game?”

“You’re on matey.” I replied and we headed to the wide, shallow lagoon. Since neither of us possessed a swimsuit, we swam and frolicked au natural.

Both of us were good swimmers and used the mattress only for a resting device as we took turns diving in an effort to reach the sea floor and retrieve rocks and seashells. We made a game out of who could stay down longer, and had drifted a hundred yards from shore, taking turns resting on the raft. Then our innocent game turned into a deadly struggle to stay alive.

I was on the surface holding the raft in position when I noticed the boys on the beach were watching us. Then I saw Captain Tom’s RTO, Pat Noonan running down from a cliff and waving at me as if to signal us back to shore.

Just as I steadied the raft and looked around to see if there was anything I should be concerned with, MACKENZIE bobbed to the surface and said, “It’s you turn. I think the depth is about twelve feet. There is a big starfish down there. See if you can get it.”

I immediately forgot any anxiety that have taken shape and taking on the challenge, I dove down. The water was so clear the visibility must have been more than fifty feet, far better than anything I had ever seen back home in California.

Sure enough, I spotted the starfish MACKENZIE had described and swam towards it, but when I reached the sea floor and tried to pull it free from the coral, it would not let go. I thought a Viet Cong starfish. Frustrated with not being able to meet the challenge, and unable to hold my breath much longer, I headed back to the surface. As my head broke the water’s surface and I tried to take a breath, MACKENZIE’s eyes locked onto mine. He screamed, “THING! THING! Climb on my back. Hurry!”

THING? I thought. Suddenly something nudged us. It was a shark. It was big; it was black and swished by us too close and personal. I gasped for air and climbed onto MACKENZIES back in one motion. We were both paddling as fast as we could towards the shore. I cried out for help, as if I thought that might be possible. Then we both saw something even more terrifying, another shark.

In a depraved game of tag, this monster sliced by us at top speed. It seemed to be more than nine feet long. {To this very day, I do not know what it actually was and every time I tell this story the ‘thing” gets larger as I said I just found out it was a shark in 2008}

Oh, my God I thought. After all we have been through, we are going to die like this?

By now, I could make out the men on the beach. They were running towards the shoreline, weapons in hand, then I heard the retort of their M-16 and the crack thump and zip and zing of rounds hitting all around us. Then came a swish and swoop, another swipe from the ‘THINGS!’ Yes, things as in two…

“Don’t stop paddling DENNE!” MACKENZIE cried.

“My God if the bullets hit us, our blood will draw them in for sure”, I whimpered.

Thump! Pa-thump, the unmistakable sound of an M-79 grenade gun. I thought, holy shit. They are firing grenades at us now. Each round had a killing radius of 15 meters. Boom! Boom! Not only were we ‘THING’ bait, but also we were being fired at like many ducks in a pond surrounded by a bunch of drunken hunters.

Everything seemed to moving in agonizing slow motion except our paddling.

We could have pulled a skier behind us.

Then with no rational reason, it ended as quickly as it had begun. No more ‘things’ and no more bullets. We stopped paddling and drifted motionless. All we heard was the sound of the waves slapping up at us as we bobbed up and down like corks in the

We looked up to see the troopers of A Company of the 101st (327th NO SLACK) Airborne starring down at us in wonder. Two wild eyed naked men on an air mattress. NO slack indeed… (MY 18th birthday)