Slow Nights On Watch III

Chapter 10: The night we didn’t get to say goodbye.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

“Donkey Kong to Clocktower over.”

“Go for Clocks.”

“Hey, which one of the Original Power Rangers was gay?”

“Clocktower to Donkey Kong,” I said as I looked through the scope of the M-240 at a small fishing boat a few hundred yards away. “I think it was the blue one. Out.”

A month had passed since the USS Decatur had passed through the Straits of Hormuz and entered the Persian Gulf. Those who manned the gun mounts on the Destroyer were all pulled from our regular duties aboard the ship. We had been sold to this cause by the promise of action. War stories of battles on rolling seas. Tales of times filled with the salty spray of an unforgiving sea and the roar of gunfire.

Instead, the nights were filled with an oppressive sense of boredom. Boredom and the ramblings of young men on watch.

We had seen none of the promised combat. Most days, we saw nothing at all. Days and nights passed with almost zero contact, only the occasional fishing boat drifting within a couple of hundred yards.

The radio crackled again.

“Donkey to Clocks,” The voice belonged to the starboard midship gunner, “I know what color he was but who played him. You know the actor, not the character.”

It was mid-afternoon, the hot desert sun reflecting off the water, causing the gulf to gleam like pearls. I had stripped the blue uniform coveralls down to the waist in a futile attempt to try and cool myself. I wiped the sheen of sweat off my brow, looking at the small group of fishing boats in the distance. The sun danced on waves, making the water sparkle like diamonds as I delved into what little memory I had of the Power Rangers.

I came up blank.

These types of conversations were nothing new. The donkey had a habit of asking stupid questions whenever he was bored. I did my best to keep out of these conversations.

But if I was honest, I could use the distraction.

“Clocks to Donkey Kong, I got no idea.” I replied, “Guess we can google it after watching. Over.”

“Nah, that’s no fun.” The donkey said, “I’ll see if we can buy some bootleg DVDs next time we hit port.”

“The actor’s name was David Yost.”

I furrowed my brow as I peered over the lifeline towards Donkey Kong’s mount. The donkey was in the middle of wiping the dust off his dual fifty Cal’s when the unknown voice came over the air. A wide smile passed the Asian man’s round face, and he lifted the radio to his lips.

“Uhh, last unit, please identify yourself.”

There was a long moment of silence, and then a tired-sounding voice croaked over the air.

“It’s Kelly. I mean Machine Gun Kelly. Out.”

“Donkey Kong to Machine Gun Kelly. Over.”

Another Lull of silence.

“Go ahead.”

“How did you know the actor’s name? You a big Power Rangers fan or something? Over.”

“I don’t know. I just know it, ok.” Machine Gun Kelly responded.

“Donkey To Machine, please say over when your done speaking, over.”

“Out,” Kelly said, the usual note of irritation in his voice.

“Clocktower to Machine Gun, why are you so defensive? Over.”

“Because you guys are always dicks. Over.” Kelly snapped.

“Oh, come on,” I said, “Are you still mad because we made jokes about midgets? Over.”

“Little people! They are called little people!” Machine Gun Kelly yelled over the radio. “And no, I am mad because Donkey implied he would fuck my sister.”

“Donkey to Machine Gun. Hey, that’s not true.” The donkey said, sounding hurt. “Technically, Clocks was the one who said he would fuck a midget. Over.”

“Clocks to Machine Gun Kelly. Technically I said I would fuck any midget, not just your sister. Over.”

“Captain Save-a-Ho to Machine Gun.” The port mid-ship machine gunner chimed in, “Actually if we want to get technical, I was the one to ask if she was single. And you never know, Kelly, I might fall in love with your sister. We might have a beautiful marriage with lots of half-midget babies. I’ll even put a little step stool next to the bed so she can get in easier. Over.”

“Go fuck yourselves. Out.”

I clung to the gun mount, doubled over with laughter. All around the deck of the Destroyer, similar sounds came from every gun mount. Well, every gun mount, except the most aft one where Machine Gun Kelly stood to watch.

When I finally could catch my breath, I raised the radio to my lips.

“Clocktower to all mounts.” I gasped, “Did Machine Gun ever say how he knew the Power Ranger guy’s name? over.”

“Donkey Kong to Clocks. I think he has a signed poster in his rack. Over and out.”

We all laughed at Machine Gun Kelly’s expense. It may have seemed too mean, but we all had our days of being the butt of the joke. Last week the squad had found out I was married to a deaf girl. That night, the radio had been filled with questions of whether my wife moaned during sex or if she expressed her orgasm through hand gestures. At the end of the day, no one was safe on those slow nights on watch.

The sun was just beginning to dip in the sky as we passed through a heavily congested stretch of fishing boats. As it turned out, our mission had been to protect an oil platform the US of A had taken a particular interest in.

Why were we, a country that was supposed to be fighting terrorists around the world, defending a privately owned oil platform in the middle of the Persian Gulf?

I don’t know. Ask your Senator.

The mounts called out every fishing vessel that came within a hundred yards. I walked in front of the pilothouse, using the scopes of both of my gun mounts to scan the decks of the many small boats. We were all on alert. All of us were focused.

And yet, there was nothing we could do to stop it. We never even saw the attack coming.

No one except Donkey Kong.


It was Donkey Kong who saw the rocket burst into the air.

“Fuck. FUCK! Brace for a shock!”

I had barely enough time to get to the starboard side of the ship before I was flung off my feet and sent bouncing across the deck. My world tipped and shook as the blast reverberated off every part of the ship, shaking me to my core. The rough feel of non-skid left the skin of my arms and legs shredded. I could taste blood in my mouth where I had bitten through my tongue.

They tell you how to brace for impact when you are in boot camp. Bend your knees, open your mouth and hold onto something for dear life.

Sounds easy enough. Damn near impossible in practice.

Strong hands gripped my bloody battered form off the deck and shook me hard. My head ached, and my vision spun as I looked into the face of the large man who had pulled me of the deck.

“Moore! Get up!” His voice was loud. “I need you down mid-ship! We can’t get hold of Dang on the radio!”


“Goddamn it, Moore, get yourself together.” The Chief yelled in my face. “Donkey Kong. We can’t reach Donkey!”

Cold dread filled my veins. I staggered to the rail. A pillar of black smoke rose from the shift stack, right above Donkey Kong’s mount.

“Tell the stretcher-bearers to meet me mid-ship. Now!” I yelled, grabbing my Med bag from the pilothouse.

“There are other wounded on the lower decks. Moore, we might not-”

“I am one of three corpsmen on board this ship. That means I am in charge of one of three stretcher-bearer teams,” I snapped, “Give me my stretcher-bearers.”

Chief Edmondson looked at me, opened his mouth to speak but only nodded. In terms of rank, I should have been talking to the man with more respect. After all, he was a chief, and I was an E-4, barely a petty officer at all. But this wasn’t the time for him to pull rank, and he knew it.

People were dying, and it was my job to save them.

I ran down the metal steps from the pilothouse and toward the pillar of rising black smoke. I looked over my shoulder as I crossed on deck and down another set of stairs. Chief Edmondson had taken control of my gun mount, his head buried in the scope as he scanned for threats.

Smoke stung my ears and eyes as I hit the main deck of the Decatur. I covered my mouth with my elbow as I stepped over jagged pieces of metal and smoking chunks of metal.

The good news was the rocket or missile or whatever it was, had hit high above the waterline. As long as the damage didn’t somehow affect the engines, which was all too possible, we wouldn’t be sinking.

The damage to the front stack of the Destroyer was severe. Even as I walked across the scorched deck, charred pieces of debris fell around me. I ducked into a gear locker as a piece of twisted metal clattered only a few feet from where I had been standing. I scanned the deck.

It wasn’t what I saw that terrified me. It was what I didn’t see — Donkey Kong.

“Gold Leader to Clocktower, what do you got down there!” Chief Edmondson barked over the radio.

“I-I am still looking.”

“Looking for what!” Chief Edmondson snapped. “What do you see down there?”

I searched the deck and beyond, out into the darkening sea. The small fishing boats had begun to turn off in every direction — any direction than toward the wounded Naval Destroyer.

“I don’t see anything, Chief,” I said, hating the own defeat in my voice. “I don’t see Donkey Kong.”

“What do you mean you-oh.” Chief started, but before he even finished the words, I could tell realization had hit. “ALL MOUNTS, DOES ANYONE HAVE EYES ON DONKEY KONG! DONKEY KONG, ANSWER YOUR FUCKING RADIO!”

I looked at the coiled lifelines on the deck. Tight bands of metal wire wrapped in thick black rubber. They were called lifelines because, at the end of the day, they were all that separated us from a cruel death lost at sea.

The man overboard alert toned, just as my stretcher-bearers arrived on deck, carrying the metal cage used to transport patients down ladder wells and through hatches. I sent them back below decks.

There was nothing they could do for Donkey Kong now. Nothing any of us could do until we found him in the water.

“Machine Gun Kelly to all mounts!” the radio crackled from where it was clipped across my chest. “We got one inbound starboard side.”

And just as fast as the man overboard had been alerted, just as fast as it belayed. We were in the middle of a battle, after all. Every vessel was a threat. Another potential enemy ready to send another missile flying our way.

What was the life of one man lost at sea versus the hundred and fifty on board?

This was what it meant to go to war.

I looked up from the broken line and past the now unmanned dual fifty Cal. A single fishing boat, dingey and brown with rust, bobbed toward the Destroyer. It wasn’t coming full throttle. No one on the deck was holding a rocket launcher or waving an AK-47. No one manned the deck at all. Not a man in sight.

Yet, it continued to move toward us. Despite the blare of the ship horn and the screamed warning in English and Arabic, it moved closer.

“Gold Leader to all mounts.” Chief’s voice came over the air. “We are giving the vessel warning to change course. The main engine is down from the attack. If it comes to close, this is on us.”

I watched as debris rained down on the deck, black clods of ash raining down behind the broken lifelines. I stared at the vessel as it moved toward the now empty mount. Donkey Kong’s mount.

Every minute a man spent in the water after falling overboard, his chance of survival dropped eighteen percent. How much time had passed for Donkey?

The air shook as the ship’s horn blared, and flares lit the deck of the ever-closing fishing vessel.

I thought of Donkey. I thought of all those sailors who had died on the USS Cole.

I don’t remember leaving the gear locker. I don’t remember running toward Donkey’s old mount.

But I will never forget pulling the trigger.

The fifty Cal’s roared as I leveled them at the center of the slow-moving fishing boat. I aimed right below the front stack, just as I had been trained. Aim for where the fuel tank would be. Even mounted in place, the machine gun shook in my grip.

I squeezed as hard as I could on the trigger, the staccato of gunfire filling my ears as I watched the rounds tear through the thin deck of the rusted ship. Every third round in the belt was a tracer round, the bullet leaving a fiery trail of white phosphorous as it sailed from the barrel.

I was a corpsman. I joined the military because I wanted to save people. To make sure my brothers in arms came home to their families. I joined so that no kid would have to grow up without his father.

So that no kid had to grow up like me.

The boat was fifty yards out when black smoke poured through every hatch and porthole. The whole boat seemed to move upward and then tilt toward the port side. I could hear the screams of the men inside — the sound of men burning alive moments before being swallowed up by the sea.

I tell myself it was impossible for me to hear them. There was too much noise. Too much gunfire. But none of that changes what I heard.

I fired until the fifty Cal went dry. I watched as the flames consumed the sinking boat. I watched the flames get lapped away by the waves. The water was stained an inky black, and then like everything else, that too was washed away. Swallowed by an uncaring sea.

“Holy fuck.”

The radio traffic came from the mount behind me. I turned to see Captain Save-a-Ho, a lanky black kid barely over the age of eighteen staring at me. As I looked around, I saw others gathered. My stretcher-bearers, ready to help me treat the wounded gunner who went by the callsign Donkey Kong.

“Disregard,” I said. It was all I could say. “Donkey Kong, Seaman Joseph Dang, was lost at sea.”

After the attack, the ship was escorted back to port by another cruiser. The navy dispatched as many assets as possible to look for Dang, but he was never found. With our main engine offline, it took us almost a week to get back to port.

Every night, we stood watch. Chief manned my old spot on the bridge. I took Donkey’s old spot.

They gave me a Combat action ribbon for my actions that day. I never wore it. It never felt right.

To this day, I do not know if that fishing boat was the one that attacked us. I don’t know if it was laden with explosives. I don’t know if those on board had anything to do with Donkey’s death.

I had been so filled with rage, so filled with hate that I had not thought about what-ifs.

Not until later. When I sat on the deck under a sea filled with stars. Not until those slow nights on watch.

More exciting reads —

Next Chapter 11: When the “King” Returns

Previous Chapter 9: Human

Read prequels to those nights: Slow Nights on Watch II and Slow Nights on Watch I

For quick access to other chapters: Go here

Merlin Troy writes fiction inspired based on his time as a police officer, paramedic, and veteran. He is working on his first novel which will be available for readers when published on Kindle. Expected release: July 2021
Subscribe to receive his stories and updates.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Merlin Troy

Writer who draws on unique personal experience to make up stories where lots of people die and stuff.