Copyright 2003 -- Donald S. Pepe

It was middle of the afternoon in the middle of October. I was on my cot in the company area reading a skin mag and getting close to nodding off into a nap.

Then pow, pow, pow, pow. The sound of a 30 caliber weapon firing off somewhere right outside my door. One quick role and I was flat on the concrete floor. I heard somebody yelling and I low crawled over to the doorway to peek outside.

Standing on the sidewalk about 20 feet away from me was this enlisted guy, an E4, a black kid, waving this M16 around and generally shouting nonsense. He was obviously pissed at someone in the hootch next door. He was standing in front of the open door of that hootch and had just squeezed off a half a dozen rounds down the aisleway that ran its length. I had no way of knowing if he had hit anyone.

Holy Shit. I spend several hundred hours a single engine airplane with enemy forces trying to kill me in all kinds of ways, and I might end up getting taken out in my own hootch by a stray bullet from some crazed lunatic that is supposed to be on my side. The potential irony did not impress me. I don't know if the kid was on drugs, or drunk, or if he just flipped out on his own. I wasn't trained in social work or in law enforcement. I was able to discern, however, that this was not a positive situation.

Then just from the right side of my view I caught some motion and turned my head enough to see Mac Byrd walking slowly toward the kid. Mac's walk was actually more a shuffle. He always wore these old house shoes and stepped down on the back of them. When he walked it was like he needed to keep his feet close to the ground to keep the shoes from falling off. He had on his usual hootch area attire--denim cutoffs and no shirt. He got up the kid, stuck out his left hand and in his usual slow drawl said, "Give me the gun."

Now I'm glad somebody is doing something to address the situation, but I am also thinking, "Byrd, you are absolutely fucking nuts". As Mac extended his hand toward the middle of the rifle, the kid suddenly jerked it away and five or six more rounds fired off. The gun was obviously on full automatic. It was pointed generally up above the horizon; it didn't look like anyone could have been hit in this burst anyway.

Mac just stood his ground, didn't move suddenly or panic in any way. "Now give me the gun" he repeated without any change in tone or volume. The kid didn't hand over the gun, but he didn't squeeze off any rounds this time. Mac kept talking to the kid, but I couldn't make out what he was saying. He slowly extended his hand to until he had a grip on the middle of the rifle. He pulled it back toward himself and and the kid slowly let go.

Others arrived on the scene to take custody and then everything was cool. It turned out that the inital burst of rounds all ended up in the hootch walls; none of the shots fired had hit anyone.

I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. I had just witnessed either the bravest or the dumbest action by an individual of my entire Vietnam experience. I wasn't sure which it was. I'm still not.
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