Little did we know that while we were trying to pound our ears in the piney woods a composite unit of the then-two battalions of the U.S. Army's 75th Infantry Regiment (Airborne) (Ranger) was staging in the Caribbean to parachute onto the runway at Point Salines.
What should have given us a clue that the something that the U.S. had decided to do about those pesky Grenadian Commies included the 82nd Airborne Division was the constant uproar in Area J that night.
No sooner had we snuck back into our hootch from the billets after the platoon beer-and-pizza-night than a whining deuce-and-a-half rolled up and some knucklehead roared out "First Three-two-Five! Third Three-Two-Five! Alpha Three-Oh-Seventh Med! Get on the truck!"
This was greeted with the U.S. soldier's traditional enthusiastic obedience to orders:
"Fuck off, you! Tryin' to sleep here!"
"Who died and left you in charge, asshole?"
"What kind of clusterfuck IS this?"
But the roarer kept on roaring, and Woodus and I - who, like sensible GIs, kept our heads down; nobody had called OUR unit - heard the sounds of scuffling and dragging all around us, thumping and banging, and then the deuce engine whined and spun up and the headlights strobed away and the forest was dark again.
For probably a couple of hours.
Then the whole thing repeated itself; the farting and whining of a truck engine, another set of bellowed unit numbers - First Five-Oh-Fourth, Second Five-Oh-Fourth, Three-Twentieth FA, First Five-Oh-Eighth - and more scuffling, thumping, banging, and then silence.
The hell with it. Wasn't OUR problem. We went back to sleep.
The morning of Tuesday, 25 OCT 1983, was cool and clear. I remember waking slowly, and wondering why if it was light out that nobody had come around with first call earlier. Soldiers never wake up in daylight. I rolled out of my poncho liner and wriggled around to stick my head out of my end of the hootch.
So. First, you have to picture the little encampment as it had looked at nightfall the previous evening.
The EFMB cadre had set up a regular little field bivouac in Area J. Neat rows of two-man shelter halves (cretinous pigs that we were it was just us threw up a poncho hootch; they made us go all the way down to the end of the rank of little pup tents like the inbred relatives at the kids' table for Thanksgiving), a couple of big rectangular GP Medium tents for classrooms and even a ginormous GP Large for the mess tent.
A cook tent complete with immersion heaters for dishwashing, motor pool set aside for the quarter-ton M151 jeeps (Oh, alright "MUTTs", like anyone ever actually called them that...), CUCVs, and deuces.
But when I looked around our hootch that morning?
And I mean nothing. No tents. No vehicles. Not so much as a cardboard C-rat box.
"Woodus..." I said, "...I think we might be in a little bit of trouble."
When we burst into the billets twenty minutes later nobody even bothered to lock our heels.
"Where the fuck have you two idiots been?" Monty Harder, my section sergeant, didn't even look up from packing his rucksack. "Never mind. Get your DRF shit together. We're going into DRF1."
At this point I want to turn you over to someone else who had a better view of what happened next.
Well, sort of.
The someone else is him - twenty-six-year-old Doc Chief, the me that hurried into my barracks room that morning struggling to find all my TA-50 and assorted kit to pack in preparation for - I thought - going on duty as the Division's "Ready Battalion", the unit that was supposed to be capable of emplaneing within two hours, the United States on-call Army.
I wrote this in a letter to my parents about two weeks later from where my infantry platoon was loafing around a deserted police station outside Pearls (I think). It isn't great literature by any means, but it has the cardinal virtue of being the actual eyewitness account, undimmed by time and without the additions and subtractions that reflection makes to memory.
I'll comment on it when it's clear that I didn't explain something well, or another issue demands explication, but otherwise I'll try and let my younger self speak. From here on the block quotes are the voice of SP4 Chief, platoon medic for 3rd Platoon, A Company, 1/505 Infantry (Airborne) (Light).
"That morning (when I called) we returned to find the battalion preparing for DRF. This was no surprise, since the 2nd Brigade had been called out (we didn't know where and rather assumed that had gone to the wargames in Georgia). So we pallatized our vehicles and packed, still unsure of whether we would go.(This was the Big Tell, by the way. First, remember that this was the pre-cell-phone Eighties. The old black AT&T pay phones in the barracks hallways were the only way for a regular grunt to call out, and as many times as we had been the Ready Battalion we'd never had a time when the Charge of Quarters came around and unscrewed the speaker from the handsets. That, and the medics and assistant machinegunners never took our pistols to field problems.
At noon the speakers in the phones were removed, and we were sent down to draw our .45's."
They were useless for playing soldier - no blank rounds or muzzle adapters - and our commanders had a justifiable paranoia about some idiot joe dropping his hogleg in a hole or down a shitter or just losing it out in the woods. Drawing the service pistols meant that Shit Was Real, or as real as it could get for a peacetime Army...)
"By 1600 we knew that the 2nd Brigade was on the ground in Grenada and (we) were becoming more sure that we would go. We moved in the night, all of us, loaded with rucksacks, duffle bags, weapons and harness on the silversided 80-pax trucks down to LACC.(Looking over my old letter I really didn't manage to convey how freakish the supply and ammo draw was. It was, and here's why: for my entire Army career it had been hammered into me how precious and special Army equipment was. Everything we were issued had to be accounted for, receipted, cared for, carefully managed and returned in equal or better condition than it was provided.
Our lock-up, or LACC, is in the old wooden barracks on the north end of post. They are fenced and wired, patrolled by guards. There we grabbed a hasty meal and were sent down to our companies.
Third platoon, A Company, was loaded with munitions and abuzz with rumors. Anything seemed possible in the sickly glow of the streetlamps. Twice we filed through a gap in the fence under the hooded eyes of the MPs. First we drew such things as jungle boots, canteens, meals, and sundries. Then we passed heaps of ammunition and, for the first time, I really believed. The fear in my gut weighed as much as the 50 rounds of .45 caliber ammo in my hands."
Not that night.
The supply guys literally threw stuff at us. "Jungle boots. Poncho liner. You need two? Fine. That looks worn, here, take this new one. Go, go, move it, here, put this in a waterproof bag. Move out, troop." As much as the live ammunition this carelessness was so uncharacteristic as to be genuinely frightening. If the supply pukes were in that kind of hurry, I thought, what the hell was going out outside the wire?
"Wednesday morning we moved in a long, straggling column down to Pope AFB and waited until noon at Green Ramp for the aircraft. A C-141 lifted us off and for five hours we were locked inside (with) our own private fears before touchdown - 1636 Wednesday, 26 October."(We didn't know it but by the time we landed what little genuine fighting there would be was all but over.
The Ranger battalions had parachuted onto the airfield the previous morning, seizing it and going through the raggedy-ass little Cuban detachment like a dose of salts. A "counterattack" by the shambolic Grenadian "Army" - which consisted of a couple of wheeled BTR-60 armored personnel carriers had been shot up with 90mm recoilless rifle rounds and routed. What was left was a bunch of random characters with an AK-47 or three who felt like taking a slap at GIs; there was no "defense" of the island in any real sense of the word.
The other thing we didn't know - and that I want to go into more in the next installment - is how badly we, all the various branches of the U.S. armed forces managed to screw up and get people killed in what was really nothing more than a one-sided beatdown of a tiny opponent barely capable of defending itself from a troop of angry Boy Scouts.
We hadn't been to war in almost a decade, and it showed.
But that's for next time.
Next: Grenada 4, or, What If They Gave A War And Nobody Knew How To Fight It?