Tahoe Pine Nuts: Embarrassing origin of the nickname Night Train Layne
February 18, 2015
I'm having some fun these spring-like winter days recording an audiobook, a chapter of which I sent to my son, Mac, now 26 and gainfully employed in San Francisco.
He responded that he had always wondered how I acquired the nickname, "Night Train Layne.
And his response has prompted me to chronicle that confession here in this fine journal…
The night of our arrival was dark and stormy. (Of course you know I had to say that.)
Large helicopters called "Chinooks" ferried us from the South China Sea to an area called Dong Ha. We had an uneventful landing, strung some concertina and dug in for the night.
We hung empty C-rat cans with rocks in them along the concertina to alert us should anybody try to climb through the wire, and though I couldn't imagine anyone trying to do that, sure enough, long about midnight, along came the unmistakable sound of rocks rattling inside C-rat cans.
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I turned to the Marine next to me. His name was Sala. He was from Chicago and had been drafted. We had known each other only a few hours, but in the next 13 months we would eat together, fight together, and wake each other every two hours at night to stand watch while the other slept.
"Sala, did you hear that?" I asked, hoping he would say no.
"Yeah, somebody's coming through the wire. Sala fired a couple rounds from his M-14 and it got real quiet.
"Hold your fire!" we heard from somewhere behind us.
"Hold your fire?" asked Sala. "Hold your fire?! They train us and send us over here and tell us to hold our fire?!" He fired a couple more rounds into the dark.
"Sal! Can I call you 'Sal?'"
"Yeah, that's my name."
"Let me launch a pop-up flare so maybe we can see Charlie…"
"Yeah, put it up there."
For the first time in my life I experienced fear. It was dark, it was raining, and somebody was coming to kill my pal, Sal, and me.
I found a pop-up flare, armed it, and struck it against the hasty parapet we had jerry-rigged out of sandbags.
But I was so scared I bent it over too far and it shot across the gully over the heads of our own troops and into a hooch full of ammunition, which ignited and all hell broke loose.
Thank God nobody was hurt. The illumination of the exploding ordnance gave us just enough light to discover a rock ape in the concertina.
Nobody was trying to kill us that night. The rock ape, unfortunately, knocked at the wrong door.
At dawn all the talk was about the train our boys across the gully had seen coming at them in the night, before it sailed over their heads and ignited the armory.
My nickname became, and remains to this day, Night Train Layne. I was, and still am, proud of that name, not in how I earned it, but proud to inherit the name of a great football player, "Dick 'Night Train' Lane," who was so afraid of flying that he always took the night train to the next game.
He still holds the record for the most interceptions in a season, fourteen. Another little known fact is that he was the last of Dinah Washington's seven husbands.
I would love to have been married to Dinah Washington, and I wouldn't have minded waiting in line…
Learn more about McAvoy Layne at http://www.ghostoftwain.com.