19 November 2012

Travel to Exotic Places, Meet Interesting People & Kill Them

Entrance to EOC, Ft. Bragg, 1978, Photo by D. Konop

The charge of quarters woke me at Oh-Dark-Thirty on 19 November 1978.  I was told the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) had been activated and I might not return for a couple days.  I walked the block and a half from the barracks to XVIII Airborne Corps Headquarters and climbed three flights of stairs to a six inch thick vault door just to the right of the third floor landing.

Pressing the cipher lock  -  rocker switches numbered 1 to 5 and hidden behind a grey steel panel,  I pushed the EOC vault door open and walked along a dark narrow hall with darkened offices for 50 feet or so before it  turned sharply to the right and into a bright florescent lit room filled with steel desks and lined with maps, clocks, classified, secret and top secret cover sheets.

Cover Sheet

The duty officer, a major and a highly decorated helicopter pilot, told me US civilians had been attacked and killed by the Guyana Army. I sat at my desk as an operations assistant and was told I was one of the first to arrive while others were driving in from their homes on and off post.  The major handed me a telex with a Secret cover sheet stapled to it and told me he had a secure call to make.

I lit a Marlboro, tossed the match in an army issue glass ashtray and turned the cover page over. Following  the distribution of military and government offices, two paragraphs described how a US Congressman was shot and killed at the Port Kaituma airstrip along with hundreds of US civilians.  I remember thinking, "Why would the Guyanese Army do that?"

Port Kaituma Airstrip, photo credit: FBI

The EOC filled with men and talk of kicking Guyana ass and taking names.  The Airborne motto, "Travel to Exotic Places - Meet Interesting People - And Kill Them" was finally going to happen.  I was told by the ops sergeant that as infantrymen our lives as Rear Echelon Mother Fuckers (REMF) would soon be over and  we'd be re-assigned to a line infantry unit in the 82nd Airborne.

My stomach dropped just below my knees as I imagined coal black Guyanese commandos with machetes chopping my unprepared REMF ass into tiny bite size pieces and then fighting over my Rolex and boots.  At 20, I was a huge smart ass but I worked that morning without saying a word and wondered if I shouldn't leave my watch behind.

Time, December 4, 1978

It took almost four hours before a telex told the true story.  A US Congressman and five civilians, mostly media, had been killed at the airstrip.  The Guyanese, our enemy seconds earlier, were helping us and had reported 200 - 300 dead at a camp  of American farmers.  In another couple hours we learned it was mass suicide - Some 900 dead.  A G-3 officer wrote in red wax pencil over a Sortie board, "Operation Bag-A-Bod."  A call for volunteers went up to to assist 1st COSCOM with the body removal.  I called my father and told him I was thinking of going.  He told me not to and went into vivid detail as to why.

I learned a lot 34 years ago today.  I learned not to believe everything you hear or read.  I learned a an officer had his heels locked and his ass chewed over a Sortie board. I later learned he retired a major and I think I know why.  Mostly, I learned time changes everything.


Makaga said...

I saw a stage play about Jonestown that used dialogue from interviews with the victims families. It was a difficult play, but one that gave the whole tragedy a deeper sense of the individuals live affected and the confusion over what happened.
Thanks for posting your memories of that day, Tintin.

Oyster Guy said...

A subtle and smart post. Time AND TIMING changes everything. Who has the wisdom these days?

Surly said...

I read a story in the paper a few years ago about this. It was the first time I'd taken the time to learn about what really happened. Certain things really sunk in. I don't use the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" anymore. Another fantastic post Mr. Tinseth.

tintin said...

Makaga- I've heard about the play and have been meaning to read it. Good on you for checking it out.

Oyster Guy- I sure as hell don't have the wisdom -- I've just seen it happen too many times where military and government, mostly due to layers and size, often get it terribly wrong.

Surly- Thanks. I've run into many who never heard of it or barely remember. But then, I know folks who don't know when WWII ended or who fought in it.

Anonymous said...

We brats tend to view military life as so much simpler than civilian. But sometimes, and when it comes to the politics, I'd take the sloppy civilian sector.


Harris Reiss said...


David Konop said...

Love your blog. Made me feel as though I was two yrs behind you as a REMF at Fort Bragg. I fixed it years later. After 3 yrs as a Clerk Typist, I did ROTC, went Infantry and graduated Ranger School. Thank You for using my XVIII Abn Corps photo. Today I am again in the XVIII ABC with the 10th MNT. I wear the XVII ABC patch from my service in Iraq. I am honored to have started with the Dragon Corps 32 yrs ago and to serve them today. Thank You for sharing!

tintin said...

Thanks and am so glad the Army snagged you as a lifer. Someone's gotta do it. Great pics on your Flickr account. Especially like the barracks stuff. You and I are gonna have to swap some stories about Hay St and did you ever know the bordello in Spring Lake known as the Devil's Playground?