Toward the end of Last of the Annamese, I describe the shelling that punctuated the final days in Saigon. Chuck, Sparky, and Colonel Troiano cower at first when rockets, later when artillery shells explode all around them. The description is accurate. My two communicators, Bob and Gary, and I hunkered in our comms center, the only room in the office suite we were still using, hoping none of the shells would hit us.
I suspect that no one who has never been through an artillery barrage can imagine the terror. The closest parallel I know is earthquakes, like the ones I experienced in the San Francisco Bay Area growing up. But artillery strikes are more terrifying because they come and go quickly, only to be repeated seconds later. In my memory, the whole comms center lurched with each strike. If I was standing, the sudden shift of the floor knocked me off my feet. The walls seemed to slap inwards, then snap back into place. Dust fell from the ceiling. The light fixtures leaped and broke loose and fell to the floor shattering glass and plastic over us.
The crash of the explosions were the loudest sounds I’ve ever heard. They made my ears hurt. And they did damage my ears—I’ve needed hearing aids ever since.
But the scariest element was the helplessness. We could do nothing to protect ourselves. We had no bomb shelter. We had no protective clothes. We had no means to shield ourselves. All we could do was keep our eyes tightly shut, hunch our shoulders, cover our ears, and try to keep the shaking under control.
It was an experience I wouldn’t wish on anybody. I hope I never again have to be the target of shelling.