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Patrick Fenderson

I received the following email:

My brother, Pat Fenderson, served  In Vietnam from February to December 1971, with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, stationed in I Corps. He has written 37 short stories about his experiences, titled

In Country: The Soldier's Story

One of my favorites is "Donut Dollies", and I thought you might want to post it on your website.

Pat's story about a day when the Donut Dollies visited his firebase touched my heart and I am happy to share it here.

All of Pat Fendersonís wonderful short stories are available free at http://pfend66.googlepages.com/incountry

Together, the 37 form a chronology of his time there, from a jolting reality on arrival to his return home, on his 20th birthday

Firebase Kathryn, April 1971

The soldier was sitting on the bunker roof, the machine gun disassembled and laid out on his towel in front of him. Even though he hadn't fired it in weeks, he cleaned it every day. He enjoyed doing it. It gave him something to do, something he thought was useful. Besides, it was part of the job.

He was facing east off the firebase and could see across the ridges to the flat lands and the South China Sea beyond. It was a sunny day, and a light breeze kept him cool. They had been on the firebase a couple of days, getting a much-needed rest. It was nice to just sit and soak up the sun.

There was a noise at the edge of his hearing, and the soldier looked up. It was straight out in front of him, and he searched the air below him until he saw the source. A Huey, coming in fast and low. It was just a black dot against the green and brown of the flatlands.

He watched it come in, slowly rising to cross the mountain ridge, and continuing to climb, pointing its blunt snout right at him. When it got to within a few hundred yards it began to slow, and it passed directly over him at walking speed, and landed on the LZ 40 yards away, kicking up a light cloud of dust.

The soldier folded the towel to cover the exposed parts of the machine gun, and turned to see who got on or off the helicopter.

To his utter amazement, three young women in blue uniforms got off, carrying small satchels, and ducking their heads until they were away from the helicopter blades. One of the firebase officers was there to greet them, and they walked over to the command bunker as the helicopter lifted off and headed back to the base camp.

A rifleman from the second squad came over to him.

"Hey! Let's go check out these Donut Dollies, man!"

"Is that what they are?" said the soldier. "Can we talk to them?"

"You bet!" said the rifleman. "That's what they're here for. Come on."

"Let me put this gun back together. I'll be up in a minute."

He found them sitting on the roof of one of the artillery bunkers, a long low pile of sandbags with a stairway entrance at one end. There were a dozen infantrymen around them, and one of the women was laughing.

The soldier had never heard anything so beautiful.

He walked up to the bunker and sat down, watching the nearest woman only a few feet away. She was talking to the radioman from the first squad, and they were laughing together. She suddenly turned to the soldier.

"Hi," she said. "You're late."

The soldier blushed. "I ... I was ... cleaning my machine gun," he stammered.

"Sure," she said. "I hear that all the time." She laughed again, and the soldier laughed too, in spite of himself.

"What's your name?" she asked him. He told her. She asked the usual questions, where was he from, how long he had been in country, what he missed most from home.

He memorized her face as he answered. Short blond hair, blue eyes, nice lips, some acne scars on her cheeks, a tiny scar on her chin.

She smelled great. She smelled wonderful. Her perfume overwhelmed him. He wanted to reach out and touch her hair, to put his face in it and take a deep breath.

The soldier fell in love with her even more when she pulled a one-pound bag of M&M's out of her satchel and said it was the prize for the winner of the quiz game they were going to play. She read questions from a stack of cards and the half dozen soldiers playing answered as best they could. The soldier, the best read of the group, got every question he was asked right.

"Congratulations," she said at the end of the game, handing him the bag of M&M's. "You're pretty smart. What are you doing in the infantry?"

"I volunteered," he said, putting the bag in his pants pocket.

She looked at him closely. "Did you really?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied.

She was silent for a moment.

"Why?" she finally asked.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time."

"You're crazy."

"No crazier than you. What are you doing out here?"

"It seemed like a good idea at the time."

They both laughed.

He walked with the women to their helicopter. He didn't know what to say anymore.

At the edge of the LZ she turned to him. "So long, soldier. I'll see you another time. Be careful. Good-bye."

And she touched him on the arm, then turned to the helicopter. As it lifted off she waved, and he waved back.

The M&M's lasted a week, and he thought of her every time he ate one.

Pat now lives in north central Pennsylvania. Feel free to contact him:

Pat's sister: Mary Ann (Fenderson) Cohen