Sunday, October 21, 2012

Night of the Purple Fog

This morning was the annual appearance of the Orionid Meteor Shower.  October 21, 1962 was a night of a very young moon and it was the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The Battle of Antietam had occurred in September 1862 and many soldiers probably survived their wounds for at least a month only to die at home.

Because of that I believe that today is the 50th anniversary of The Night of the Purple Fog.  To commemorate that I have decided to finally post what is probably my father's most famous campfire story.
My Father enlisted in the USMC in August of 1960 with the hopes of following in the family "business" of Firefighting. Initially he was assigned to a Crash Crew and trained to fight aircraft fires and save trapped fighter pilots. Due to a choice of twelve weeks of guard duty over six weeks on Kitchen Patrol (KP), by October, 1962 he was working as an MP at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, SC.

The Cuban Missile Crisis had the whole country on edge, but no one was more anxious than the military on the south east coast. After the tensions had risen to a particularly fevered pitch, intelligence came down that all bases, and especially their Military Police patrols should be on the lookout for a known saboteur suspected of being somewhere on the east coast with a mission to damage any military facilities possible. Especially high value targets were those bases on which nuclear weapons were housed, like MCAS Beaufort.

I've searched on Google Earth to find the exact spot of this incident and I believe the Ammo Point is located on the north part of the base. The base is surrounded by low lands, swamps, tidal pools, and rivers.

My Father always said that the patrols to the back gate of the Ammo Point were the most difficult because you had to drive all the way around the airfield and at the furthest point you were beyond the range of the radios. It was a single lane road with swamp on one side and water on the other. The MPs at that time patrolled alone in pickup trucks. At night it was a long, dark, lonely ride to a poorly lit gate.

That night Dad drove around to the gate on the edge of his seat, knowing how close they might be to actual Nuclear War. When he reached the end of the road he tried his radio, nothing. He put the handset down on the bench beside where he sat and exited the vehicle to inspect the gate.

When he stepped out he realized that the ground was covered in a low laying fog. Because of the chemicals in the surrounding swamp gases the fog had taken on a violet tinge as it swirled around at boot top level.

Despite the fact that the truck was parked so that the headlights were pointed at the gate, Dad had his flashlight out to keep a watch on the surrounding area. He easily found that the gate was secure, and he turned to return to his truck.

As he turned he could have sworn that he saw a red light blinking in the distance, somewhere off to the right of the truck. He leaned forward and squinted; he held his flashlight out, and he saw it again. Blink, blink.

He thought it could be a reflector of some kind, but he wasn't waving his light around. None of the lights around him were moving, and yet the light blinked. He knew some Morse code and he walked toward the light, trying to tell what letters were being blinked. With his free hand he unsnapped the loop on the holster of his service .45.

He stepped cautiously through the fog, feeling the hard road change to swamp. As he approached the light he realized that it was indeed a reflector and it was the Spanish moss hanging from a nearby tree swaying between them that made it blink. But what had made the moss sway? Only then did a slight breeze begin to stir.

The reflector was a red, reflective ribbon on a brand new wreath of flowers, still fresh, that had been laid on a headstone. My Father had stumbled into a graveyard. The headstone was leaning and overgrown, covered in tree sap and bird droppings. As the gentle puff of wind cleared the fog, he saw the writing on the grave marker.

He had gone on shift at midnight and this couldn't have been two hours into the patrol, and the day, yet the date on the headstone was one hundred years earlier, to the day. My Father had stumbled into an all but forgotten Civil War cemetery.

He looked around for other evidence of the recent visitor. He found it in the shape of a right boot print. He leaned down to get a better look and realized that it was a full inch all around bigger than his own sizable 13.

He looked for the next print and found it; a left boot print at least six feet away from the first one and leading up out of the nearby creek. This creek had no name but it crisscrossed with countless others until it emptied into the Atlantic. He did a quick calculation and estimated that at six feet tall he could take a three foot stride when he was running. A man who took a six foot stride would have to be closer to twelve feet tall.

Just then his flashlight failed. It died slowly, dimming at first and turning yellow until it was barely a trickle of light. He felt the hair on the back of his head and made his way back to the truck at a range walk.

The headlights of the truck seemed to flutter or dim for a moment as he approached. He couldn't see in the bed of the truck so he threw his now useless flashlight back there with a clatter. As he did so he drew his pistol and chambered a round.

He moved around to the driver side and opened the door.

The cab was empty except for the radio handset sitting on his clipboard. He jumped in and put his pistol down next to the mic.

He put the clutch in, put the truck in gear and let out the clutch. Nothing happened. The back tires slid but didn't seem to catch.

It was a dry night and he had stopped solidly on the road. There was no reason for his wheels to spin. He tried again, trying to give it more gas, with the same result. It was like something or someone was holding the back bumper.

He looked in the rearview mirror and saw only black.

Heart racing he kicked in the clutch, jammed it into reverse and popped the clutch. The truck jumped back a few feet. He reversed the procedure and popped it into first.

The wheels squealed but moved him forward. As he peeled around in the sharp turn he needed to get going back down the road, he felt a heavy thump as if someone had jumped into the bed of his truck.

At the same time in that sharp, hard turn, his clipboard, with the radio hand set and his Colt M1911 .45 caliber pistol slide across the bench seat and dumped into the space between the seat and the passenger side door.

He slammed on the gas and raced through the gears. He figured that if a twelve foot tall man were in the back of his truck he would have a hell of a time getting around to open his door and if he wanted to jump out of the bed of the truck at 60 mph, then more power to him.

As he raced around back onto the main part of the base he was too frightened to look in the rearview mirror, even when the lights of the base would have made the bed visible.

He sped through the front gate, right past the guard without slowing down at all. The horrified look on the guard's face confirmed that he had a tiger by the tail in the back of his truck.

He needed a plan to get stopped and out of the truck without running into his passenger. He decide to make directly for the guard shack, where there would be other men and many more weapons. He would put drive right up to a space and let the concrete bumper stop the truck. The sudden stop would kill the truck so suddenly that someone without a proper hand hold in the back would be tossed about. My Father would have steadying hands on the wheel. As his passenger tried to regain his balance my Father would be out his door and make a mad dash for the shack door.

That was exactly what he did. As soon as the truck slammed into the barrier he threw the door open and bolted inside shouting, "Sergeant of the Guard! Sergeant of the Guard!"

He ran right past the desk and grabbed a shotgun out of the rack. He pumped it and put it up to his shoulder aimed at the still swinging double doors.

"What's going on?"

"Giant saboteur, walked out of the water, held my truck, twelve feet tall, flowers, out there!"

Eventually others joined him and they walked out to find his empty truck. It was exactly as he had left it, and there was no one in it.

"But the guard saw it, ask him," my Father protested. "He had a look of pure terror."

The guard had indeed had a terrified look on his face, but he hadn't seen anything except a runaway truck and the look on my Father's face. They were what had scared him so.

In the end my Father had to admit that there was no evidence that anything untoward had happened at all. There was no evidence that anyone had done anything except careless laid a wreath. Nothing except that when my Dad went to get his dead flashlight out of the truck bed he found that it was all wet and there was an old metal milk bottle back there.
The bed had been clean and empty when he had checked it out earlier that night.