Rick Gauger


The Old Lady’s Coffin: a Vietnam Story

by Rick Gauger ©2010

[Author’s note: This is the first time I have written about my experiences as an intelligence officer with the First Cavalry Division during the Vietnam War. A warning to sensitive readers: this story contains descriptions that you may find disturbing. Everything in this story is true.]

This is one of the things that happened at LZ Pony. The LZ had been in place four or five days by the time this happened. There were about 30 American soldiers at Pony, including my little interrogating team. Fighting was going on elsewhere, so our helicopter support was sparse. We didn’t have our jeeps, our tents or our other luxuries. We were by ourselves on a bare hilltop surrounded by little hamlets and rice paddies in a valley in the mountains. We lived under our ponchos. For two weeks our luck held out. The weather was good and there was no enemy except for a sniper who used to fire one shot at us from a great distance every evening at 5 PM.

The LZ commander sent out small patrols of seven or eight infantrymen, to explore the hamlets that dotted the big valley and its tributary valleys. I wasn’t supposed to go on these patrols, but I did anyway. I was curious about this exotic place, the infantry needed interpreters, and it’s smart to scout around when you’re in VC country. My Vietnamese Army interpreter, Sgt Xuan, was willing to go too.

The Vacuum-Packed Picnic

Rick Gauger ©1987, 2009
   As she approached my table across the pilots’ crowded ready room with her teacup in her hand, I felt an urge coming over me. I had an urge to bite her on the smooth, ivory neck, which emerged from the heavy aluminum collar ring of her close-fitting pilot’s vacuum suit. Maybe it was the way she jangled all those pockets, tubes, clipboards, and electronic terminals as she made her way through the mob toward me. The typical space pilot’s swagger-but female. Maybe it was the merry brown eyes and the humorous twist of her lips as she sat down in front of me.
   “You’re Captain Suarez, aren’t you?”
   “Yeah. My friends call me—”
   “Pancho. Right?”
   “Right. I hope you’re one of my friends,” I said, my figurative tail wagging furiously. Worst case of vibes I’d ever had. It seemed to be mutual. She studied me amusedly while her tea cooled.

First Published SF Story

If I’m not mistaken, “The Vacuum-Packed Picnic” was the first one of my stories to get printed, even though “Hotwire” was sold first. I offered it to Analog first, but they didn’t want it. Imagine my thrill whenOmni bought it in April 1979! Me, a nobody, published in Omni!  And they paid me $900, a large sum in those days.  My original title was No Picnic, which I still think is better, but Omni wanted it their way. I got a highly flattering letter from a reader. Readers, if you read something you like, please send a note saying so to the author. The writer’s life is often depressing and lonely, and they need all the support we can give. Terry Carr bought it to reprint in Best Science Fiction of the Year 1979.  All this was healing for my self-esteem, which was at rock-bottom after seven years of futile efforts to start a new career.

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