Message Brevity

It was Ban Houie Sai, Laos in May and night and day the
temperature was over a hundred ten degrees.  We were on the
air strip on the banks of the Mekong River in Northern Laos.
The only shade was a piece of tin on four bamboo poles which
LTC Kaplan had claimed for his CP.  The Pathet Lao had
overrun Nam Tha, a mountain outpost in the NNW part of Laos
and were marching towards Ban Houie Sai.  The Royal Lao Army
had fled to Thailand.  Only the USSF team and interpreters
remained in Northern Laos, until LTC Kaplan, a Maggot
[nickname for a member of a Military Advisory Group] came to
provide us with his superior guidance.

Kaplan ordered everyone to go back up the Nam Tha Road on a
short patrol to see if they could find the enemy.  Everyone
went except Kaplan and me, I was the radio operator.  That
was the hottest day yet.  LP notified me that the choppers
were coming and LTC Elmer Fudd, Kaplan’s Maggot buddy, was
aboard.  [Elmer Fudd was not his real name-I do not remember
his real name.  We nicknamed that because he looked like
Elmer Fudd.],

They also said that the chopper would be returning to LP
immediately.  Novelist Kaplan sat down and started writing
another one of his infamous messages.  It must have been
every bit of 500 groups [words] long.  When he finally
finished it, he brought it to me, “Here Sergeant Valentine,
send this to LP right away.”  I suggested, “Sir, why don’t
we send this message back with the chopper?  It will arrive
in LP about the same time by chopper as it would by radio by
the time I encode and send it and the guys in LP decode it.”
Kaplan puffed up, “Oh no, it has to go out right away.”
“Yes sir!  I’ll get on it right now.,” said I.  When I said
that, I must have been grinning like a cheshire cat.

Let met tell you, I encoded Kaplan's latest novel in record
time, all the while hoping that our guys would not return
before I had finished.  When I finally had it encoded, I
told Kaplan, “Sir, I’m ready to send your message.  You can
come on over here and have a seat on the generator now.”
[How I got that out without busting a gut laughing, I don’t
know, but I did.]  Kaplan looked puzzled and asked, “What do
you mean?”  I explained, “Sir, unless you know morse code
and special forces radio procedure, I am going to transmit
this message and you are going to crank the generator.”

Let me take the time here to explain about a hand-cranked
generator and the effect that morse code transmissions have
on it.  If you just hold down the telegraph key, our
strongest man can barely move the handles on that generator.
It’s much like a really hard-frozen hand-cranked ice cream
churn when the ice cream is done and you “stop” cranking.
The faster you send code, the lighter you touch the key and
the shorter time you hold it down, but the slower you send
code, the heavier you touch the key and the longer you hold
it down.  If I wanted to, I could transmit about 22-25 words
a minute and I knew that our guys in LP could copy that
speed.  However, there is a time and a place for everything
in this world and I knew that was not the time or the place
for me to send fast.  That was a time for revenge.

Kaplan sighed, “Oh all right, let’s get this over with.”  He
sat down and started cranking and I started slowly sending
his latest damn novel and I mean very, very slowly.  My
transmitting speed was only about five words per minute.
After just a few minutes, the sweat began to pour off my
dear little budding novelist.  The operator at LP
interrupted me; he told me that he could hear my signal loud
and clear and then requested that I speed up.  “Negative,
Negative.  Kaplan is cranking,” I sent.  Then I continued
sending at the same speed.  It took me a long, long time to
finish sending that message.

Kaplan turned beet red and then as white as a sheet, but he
kept cranking, I’ll give him that much.  Hell, I thought
that novel-writing son of a bitch was going to have a heat
stroke because we were sitting in the sun and it was well
over a hundred degrees at the time.  It didn’t make a shit
to me if he did, I was loving every minute of it.  That son
of a bitch was getting a lesson in message brevity that he
would never forget, assuming he survived of course.  When we
finally finished, Kaplan literally crawled from the
generator into the shade under his tin-roofed shelter.
Where he laid and panted like a damned old Tennessee soup

Almost immediately, in flew the choppers and out jumped his
Maggot buddy, LTC Elmer Fudd.  Fudd marched his fat little
pompous ass directly to where I hunkered down, oriental
style, and handed me a five-page message that he had written
on the way from LP and ordered, “Sergeant send this message
to LP immediately.”

[I have still not figured out what in the hell that fat
little fucker could possibly have discovered while he was on
that flight that was so damn important that he just had to
immediately notify LP about it.]

Fudd spoke a few words with Kaplan while I unloaded supplies
and then he headed back to the chopper.  Kaplan’s eyes never
left the handful of papers that Fudd had given me, except to
glance desperately up the road for any sign of our troops
returning.  The road was empty except for the heat waves
rising from it.  Suddenly, Kaplan got a wild look in his
eyes.  He snatched those papers out of my hand and raced
after Fudd.  Their conversation was short, very shot, but  I
could tell that it was heated.  They did a lot of arm-waving
and Kaplan pointed several times at me and that damn
generator.  Shortly afterward, Fudd left with his message
still in his hands.  Apparently, Kaplan had learned his
message writing lesson very well, at least while he was the
Crank Man, he had.  All the while, I was grinning like a
possum with chicken feathers on his lips.  Don’t let anybody
shit you, revenge is sweet!  The guys got a big laugh out of
that when they returned.

Don "Val"  Valentine