They Must Have Thought I Was Very Short
By Gregory Ross
"Get up," they yelled shaking our bunks. The eighty men in the barracks groggily came to consciousness. The First Class and Chief Petty Officers that had fanned out into the barracks to wake the lower ranked enlisted men yelled, "The perimeter has been breached." They were telling us to muster at the Mess Hall in the center of the base. The Officer on Duty was sending out groups of men as they arrived.
Locals had cut through the fence, dug a six-foot trench along a length of cable, which contained mostly copper and steel wires and small amounts of gold and silver wires. Those who could read "tracks" postulated four men had tied two mules to the cable, then quickly cut both ends of the piece with axes and smacked the mules. It all happened very quickly and the communications on the base were adversely affected, which was a bonus to them or perhaps the main reason for the breach since it was a Communications base. Groups of men were bussed to the Communications Receiving Building, which was about two miles from the main area of the base, just short of the perimeter fence. From there we were bussed along the perimeter road to various remote parts of the base covered with scrub brush and charcoal trees, to check for other cut cables and for Moroccan Nationals.
Officers were armed, but we were not. There were not that many weapons on the base and even fewer flashlights. The Marine guards regularly carried M16s and 45s. The rest of us, about 1,500 men, were ordered not to engage, but get back to the OD as quickly and safely as possible to report. Then, as an afterthought, we were informed that there were abandoned wells, which were just holes in the ground. Soon, heavily armed Moroccan Gendarmes showed up and the OD had them guard the main area of the base. It was 0400 hours, in a charcoal tree forest. There was just a small crescent moon; the same shape as the Arab Nations symbol, a moon we called, "The Enemy Moon."
E-Bert, Magoo, Bear, Too Tall, who we called T2, and I were sent out as a group. We fanned out just enough that we could hear each other. We agreed we would call out every few minutes to make sure we were OK. Obviously, none of us had combat training. At some point, Magoo, T2 and I lost contact with Bear and E-Bert. We heard low moaning sounds. When neither Bear nor E-Bert answered any calls, Magoo, T2 and I came together to discuss what to do next. We kept hearing moaning sounds and as we walked towards them, we found an abandoned well, too deep to see the bottom, especially since we had no flashlight. We thought it was the trees making the sounds, but were not willing to take a chance.
Magoo and I stayed. T2 went to report. He was not eager to be in the forest alone, but he had lost the coin toss. After what seemed like an incredibly long time, Magoo and I decided something might have happened to T2 and tossed a coin to see who stayed and who went, neither option appealing. I lost. As Magoo left, he turned and whispered, "Better to be a moving target." I gave him the finger.
The disturbing darkness began to abate. You could not call it dawn, but a scarcely perceptible lightening of the dark. At the point I noticed that change I heard a loud "click" that seemed to come from everywhere, as if God had taken off a world-sized safety. My nerves came to even more attention. I jumped when the Imam began chanting the morning prayers into a loudspeaker from the Mosque in the village outside the base. The "click" was him turning on the loudspeaker.
I began moving fast for the main area of the base. As the forest got only slightly lighter and I got closer to the buildings, I was fired upon, ordnance flying within millimeters of my ears. It took me a second to realize what was happening. I dove to the ground and rolled behind a tree, such as it was; charcoal trees are about like our mesquite or manzanita, more like a large, thick bush. I heard words shouted in Arabic, then French. The voices were, as best as I could understand, yelling at the Gendarmes to stop, that it most likely was an American. Then a voice yelled in English that it was OK, I could come in, I would not be fired upon. Smiling nervously, the OD said that I was never in danger because the Gendarmes had fired above my head as a warning.
They must have thought I was very short.
Gregory Ross was in the Navy, serving in Morocco, Six Day War (1967), Philippines (1968), and Vietnam, 7th Fleet, Gun Line (1969).