Echoes of China Beach

Riding the surf with my tanks operator (left) and

Riding the surf with my tank’s operator (left) and gunner (center).

China Beach was the 30 kilometer golden stretch of coastline of the Vietnam War-era that became famed as a place for GIs to go on leave and let off steam–somewhere they could turn on, tune in and drop out from the hell of war, albeit temporarily.

The beach we found during our operational stand down was a less dramatic affair. It wasn’t gold, rather a wan, bleached color, and pretty empty other than a few American soldiers doing their thing. Having laid down my towel, I looked hopefully up and down the beach, but saw no females who might at least flash a flirtatious smile.

This didn’t seem to bother the soldiers who got stuck into being towed on various inflatable contraptions and messing around in the sea. After the beach, we headed to the giant cerulean-tinted mosaic globes of the Kuwaiti Towers shimmering next to skyscrapers. At the base of one of the towers a few of the soldiers and I smoked a shisha.

Driving back to Camp Doha, the day’s activities caught up with the soldiers who slept in the back of the minibus, their heads arched back against headrests and mouths open like fatigued goldfish. I sat up front next to my corporal who was doing the driving and watched the city’s nocturnal scenes bathed in an amber glow of street lighting and which rushed by my window.

The illuminated night was all the more striking in comparison to the oily darkness I’d got used to during the past couple of months. On operations you always moved at night under the cover of total darkness, using the barest minimum of light so not to give the enemy an indication of your whereabouts.

Everything took longer to do, usually involving a small torch gripped between your teeth and with a filter giving out a dim, red-tinged beam, and often resulted in a painfully knocked shin or wrong-footed stumble.

But driving along the well-lit motorway running beside the Kuwait coastline, I basked in what seemed like the reassuring glow of a night-sun shining down on the city.