The War Beneath
Thomas Calabrese –Mason Flynn spent six days on the Repose before being released. Operation Oklahoma Hills ended during his absence and the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF) relieved the 9th Expeditionary Force who were headquartered in an old French Army compound on the Tiensha Peninsula on the east side of the Han River opposite Danang.
Doc Hancock looked at Flynn’s wound upon his return, “It’s healing up alright. I’ll take the stitches out in a few days. In the meantime, do you think that you can stay out of trouble?”
“I’ll do my best, but as much as I would like it, the war doesn’t always work around my schedule…or yours,” Flynn smiled. “They call and I go.”
Doc Hancock vowed, “They’ll just have to find another tunnel rat until you’re released for full duty. Hell, if you’re not going to listen to me, I’ll go patch up some grunt who appreciates my hard work.”
“Don’t be that way, you know that you’re my favorite corpsman. Next time I’m at Freedom Hill, I’ll pick you up a big box of pogey bait (candy)?”
“That’s a start,” Doc Hancock replied.
Flynn put his arm around Doc Hancock’s shoulder as a sign of friendship.
Three weeks later, Flynn got the call that he knew would eventually be coming. He boarded the CH-46 Sea Knight dual rotor helicopter and flew to Con Thien near the DMZ (the demilitarized zone). Sergeant William Ward and his recon team were there to meet him when the chopper touched down.
“Hey Billy,” Flynn said.
“Good to see that you’re still upright, Mason,” Ward said.
“What have you got?” Flynn asked.
“The NVA have been moving a massive amount of supplies from the North. We’ve been in the area about ten days and we’ve located a few entry holes to a maze of tunnels.”
“Then blow ‘em,” Flynn suggested, “What are you waiting for…an engraved invitation?”
Ward replied, “That was the original plan until a squad of Marines were captured. Division thinks they might be held inside one of the tunnels and have given us two days to find them. At the end of that time…well you know. They thought maybe you might be of help. I told the Colonel that you’re vastly overrated, but you know how officers are, once they get something in their heads, it’s hard to change their minds.”
Flynn quipped, “When this is over, you can tell him how right you were.”
That night the Marines discussed their strategy. “These tunnels are bigger than normal. We’ve seen them taking some pieces of artillery out of the holes.” Ward then added, “We’ll be going in with you.”
Going into the tunnels was strictly voluntary so Ward’s statement was kind of a surprise, but on second thought, not that much. The unspoken rule had been in effect since the inception of combat for American troops. It was ‘Leave No Man Behind.’ Flynn still wanted to be sure that his fellow Marines were fully on board, so he asked, “Does that go for everybody?” Each Recon Marine nodded.
In all the times he went into enemy tunnels, this would be Flynn’s first rescue mission and the first time that he would be leading a squad. He would have to adjust his decision-making to protect Ward and his men as well as accomplishing the mission.
Because of the size of the tunnels, the Marines could carry more weapons and ammunition. Two Marines were carrying crossbows, silent but deadly and one had an M-79 grenade launcher with 50 HE (high explosive) rounds. The others were carrying shotguns with 00 buckshot.
Before they entered, Flynn told Ward, “We need to get a prisoner…see if we can get Intel about our Marines.”
“Roger that, I’ll pass the word.”
Flynn was the first down the hole. The tunnel was the biggest that he had ever seen, being six feet high and eight feet wide. He saw the wheel tracks in the dirt and deduced from the deep indentations that the NVA had been hauling heavy loads through this part of the underground structure.
Three NVA soldiers came walking toward them. Two were quickly killed and the third was captured. Two Recon Marines, who spoke fluent Vietnamese, interrogated the enemy soldier to find out where the Marines were being held. In return for the Intel, Flynn and the Recon team promised not to kill him. They firmly tied his hands behind his back and gagged him. After he led Flynn and the team to the cavernous three-level section of the underground structure, they tied his ankles and placed him behind some wooden crates.
The captured Marines were being watched by two armed guards. Ward whispered to Flynn from their concealed position, “How do you want to do this?”
Flynn said, “Leave me the blooper (M-79 grenade launcher). You get our boys and get the hell out of here. I’ll be right behind you.”
The Recon team made their way to the captured Marines, killed four NVA soldiers in the process and made their escape. Flynn started firing grenades into the large expanses of the tunnel. There were primary and secondary explosions that filled the area with smoke.
The Recon and captured Marines made it out of the hole and Flynn was only seconds behind them. Two hundred NVA soldiers began popping out of holes all over the area and opened fire on the escaping Americans. Once they got to a pre-designated secure location, Ward called in an air strike and three jets from the 352nd Tactical Fighter Squadron dropped napalm bombs between the Americans and the NVA. A sheet of 50 foot high flames stretched across the area.
Four hours later, B-52 bombers dropped 500-pound bombs on the area and large sections of the tunnel complex were destroyed. The mission was completed and the Marines boarded two helicopters for their return to base. Flynn usually never took anything for granted and just when he thought that they were safe and he breathed a sigh of relief, his chopper was shot down. When it crashed, he broke his collarbone and right leg in two places. Flynn had been wounded enough times to know that these injuries would end his combat career.
After returning to California, Mason Flynn had two surgeries to repair his leg at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. Even after it completely healed, he still experienced pain in his knee and walked with a minor limp. The Marine Corps awarded him the Navy Cross for his actions during the mission.
Mason was rated 70 per cent disabled by the Veterans Administration. After working several civilian jobs in the San Diego area, he applied for employment on Camp Pendleton. With his military history and veteran preference, he was hired. He was assigned to work as a maintenance worker on Del Mar Beach. Most of the men that he worked with were former military and they had a good relationship. The man in charge was Joe Slater, one of the Chosin Few. He served in the Korean War and fought in the brutal Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. His nickname was ‘Del Mar Joe’. He became good friends with Flynn.
Mason usually came to work early and often stayed late because he liked the solitude of the beach when nobody was around. His duties consisted of keeping the beach clean for the Marines and their families. Five years passed and Mason bought a motor home and parked it at the camp ground adjacent to the beach. He volunteered to work holidays and weekends so that his co-workers could spend time with their families.
He dated occasionally, but nothing progressed to anything permanent for the former Marine. Mason wasn’t sure if it was the war had changed him and or it was just the way he always was. It was entirely possible that he had reached a point in his life that instead of trying to be something that he wasn’t, he just tried to be happy with his current situation.
Occasionally he’d meet some Marine who had been in Vietnam and had stayed in the Corps. They had moved up the ranks and the first thing they’d tell Flynn was how glad they were to finally meet the ‘Tunnel Rat’ legend. One summer evening, Phillip Warner showed up at the Del Mar Beach motorhome campground and approached Mason, who was sitting in a beach chair, looking out to sea. “Relaxing again, some things never change. You got the life.”
Mason looked behind him and immediately recognized the former Marine officer, “What brings you to Pendleton, Warner?”
“I had some business on base.”
Mason pointed to a chair, “Have a seat, enjoy the sunset.”
“I heard that you were working and living on base,” Warner said.
“Just keeping the beach clean. What about you…what are you doing?”
Warner pulled out his badge, “I got a job with the FBI.”
The two combat veterans spent the rest of the evening hanging out together. Warner was surprised how things turned out for the underground warrior. “I could never imagine you in peacetime. Now that I see you here, it’s hard to imagine what you used to do back in the ‘Nam.
Mason smiled, “I did what I had to do over there…now I’m just doing what I want to do here.”
The years passed easily for Mason. He developed an interest in yoga, began seeing a chiropractor, acupuncturist and a Thailand herbalist on a regular basis to maintain his health. He volunteered at the base animal shelter and when called upon by commanders on base, he would tell young Marines about being a tunnel rat and how to prepare for close combat, especially hand-to-hand battle. Even though he didn’t like to talk about his own exploits, Mason figured it was duty and privilege to impart knowledge that might save somebody’s life. He reminded every Marine, “It is better to learn something and not need it, than to not know it and need it.”
Mason was one of the most decorated Marines of the Vietnam War, having earned 28 medals, including the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars and eleven Purple Hearts. There were only rough estimates on how many confirmed kills he had. From his easy-going demeanor, it was hard to tell that he was ever in combat.
The Veterans Administration was conducting a study on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and because of Mason’s experiences, they asked him to come in for a battery of tests. To the former Marine, he thought he had adapted well to civilian life, but according to the doctors, he had severe repressive PTSD.
Mason was confused, “What’s that?”
Doctor Warren Bening replied, “You hold in your feelings…you’re like a pot of boiling water with a tight lid or a pressure cooker. If you don’t take that top off once in a while, you’re going to explode.”
“I like your analogies, Doc. It makes it easy for a man of my limited intelligence to comprehend the situation,” Mason smiled.
Doctor Bening said. “The last thing that I would ever diagnose you with, Mr. Flynn, is limited anything. You seem to have enough positive aspects in your life. I suggest you stay with them, they seem to be working. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any problems.”
Mason started working on Camp Pendleton in 1977. In 2018, he decided he would retire in 2020. That would give him 45 years with military and civil service combined. It wasn’t that unusual for employees on base to have 30, 40 or even 50 years in before leaving the base. That would make him 70 years old. Where had the time gone? Mason wondered if he would really be doing anything different than he was doing right now, and the answer was no. He had grown used to his routine and saw no reason to change it.
A group of retirees usually met at Katie’s Café, off South Coast Highway in Oceanside. Some were former military and others were businessmen. There was also a group of vintage car collectors who drove their meticulously maintained autos to the establishment and parked them in the lot and socialized. It was a cordial and inviting environment. Mason wasn’t a regular, but he showed up occasionally when he was off work. It was a beautiful and warm morning without a cloud in the sky and a perfect day to sit outside and enjoy one of Katie’s specialty omelets.
A growing mob of radical anarchists were gathering outside the Oceanside Public Library for a march down South Coast Highway. They were dressed in black, wore face coverings and carried signs that read; Defund the Police, Defund the Military and Death To Capitalism.
As the large group walked down the middle of the street, they vandalized cars, buildings and harassed and threatened bystanders. Mason could hear the commotion in the distance, but continued eating. When the vintage car collectors saw the crowd moving in their direction, they got in their vehicles and quickly left. Many of the other patrons also departed to avoid a confrontation. Mason knew he should leave as well, but it just wasn’t in him to run from trouble.
He was sitting on the outside patio when he was surrounded by a group of young men yelling profanities at him. Mason sat there calmly for a minute then warned, “I have severe repressive PTSD and a set of deadly skills. I have to warn you not to provoke me or it could be dangerous for you.”
One of the anarchists laughed defiantly, “What are you going to do, old man?”
In a flash, he was back in combat mode. Mason once again warned the troublemakers, “Leave me alone…this will not end well for you.”
One of the young men reached for his food and Mason jabbed the individual in the hand with his fork. Another tried to knock his hat with the American flag off his head and Mason knocked his hand away. He wrapped the cloth napkin around the knuckles on his right hand and smashed one of the men in the face, flattening his nose. The fight was on. One man tried to hit Mason with a club and he blocked it with his chair, then swung it with such force that it broke the man’s arm. Another individual tried to stab Mason and he disarmed him and broke his leg with a vicious sidekick. More anarchists entered the fray and Mason fought them all with everything at his disposal. By the time the Oceanside Police arrived, eleven protestors were lying on the sidewalk and in the gutter with various injuries, ranging from minor to serious.
Mason however, was not unscathed, he was cut and bruised, but for some reason it felt like a strange kind of homecoming for him to be in battle again. The police took his statement and the paramedics treated his minor wounds. The anarchists were taken to Tri-City Medical Center for their injuries.
Many of these protesters came from well-connected families or were employed by a wealthy benefactor who wanted to sow hate and discontent in America. When one of the young men died from complications while being treated for the injuries he suffered during the fight, an all-out news and social media blitz began.
Fake news stories called Mason Flynn a killer and a mentally deranged war veteran. They falsified information that he was a member of a radical militia and was involved in drug and human trafficking. There was no story too vile or reprehensible to print or broadcast about this quiet war hero. They used the infamous ‘wrap around lie’ to maximum effect. That is when someone in the government leaks a false story to the media, then uses that bogus information to initiate an investigation.
President Charles Harris had run on a progressive agenda and he received immense pressure from the radical faction of his party to open a Department of Justice investigation into Mason Flynn. The IRS even notified Mason that they were going to conduct an audit of his finances. They impounded his bank account and investment portfolio. The Secretary of Defense notified the Commanding General of Camp Pendleton that Mason should be barred from the base while a thorough inquiry proceeded forward.
The Deep State had Mason Flynn in their crosshairs and they were going for the kill-shot. Their intent was to destroy him on every level, with the secondary intent of sending a message to loyal Americans that they could be next if they stood up against an injustice. There was one problem with their heinous plan, Mason Flynn was a warrior and a man of honor who had a lot of loyal friends and patriotic comrades.
Mason began packing up his motorhome at the Del Mar Beach campground after being given 48 hours to depart Camp Pendleton. It was a sad day for all who knew and respected him. Employees on base knew any sign of overt loyalty to Mason would also make them a target, so they kept their farewells private and out of view. When interviewed by devious reporters, Mason’s friends and co-workers decided that ‘No Comment’ would be their universal reply to avoid having their words taken out of context.
FBI Agent Phillip Warner made an unannounced visit just hours before Mason was due to leave. He was there out of loyalty, friendship and love of country. “There is a federal warrant out for you. They’ve falsified some serious charges including money laundering. At this time it’s been misplaced by a friend at the Marshal’s Service. From my experience, the bureaucrats will spend millions to destroy you and you’ll have to use every cent you have to defend yourself. They made up a false dossier against President Trump, then went after Lt. General Flannagan, Carter Page and Roger Stone. These ‘Deep Staters’ are worse than anything you ever faced in the tunnels of Vietnam. I witness their dastardly deeds on a daily basis.”
“I appreciate the heads-up. I don’t want you to get into any trouble trying to help me, though,” Mason stated unequivocally.
Phillip Warner replied, “What’s the motto that every Marine tries to live by? ‘Leave no man behind’. Besides, some things in life will always be worth the risks.”
Warner handed Mason a large manila envelope, “Here’s your new identification, registration for your vehicle and new plates. There’s some cash, a debit card and a map with the directions to a secure location. They’re expecting you.”
Mason was visibly touched, “You did all this for me?”
“It wasn’t just me. There are a lot of patriots, military and otherwise who appreciate what you’ve done for our country and think you’re getting a raw deal. Now get going…I’ll relay Intel as it develops.”
Mason drove all night and most of the next day until he reached a secluded ranch outside Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. Two armed guards checked his identification and one of them rode with Mason for several hundred yards. They parked outside a cave entrance inside a box canyon. Both men entered. The guard ordered, “Wait here.”
Mason stayed put until a man his own age walked up and introduced himself, “I’m retired General Ethan Whitfield, it’s a pleasure to meet you Mason Flynn. Let me show you around.”
General Whitfield explained, “This is our command center. We receive Intel from around the world on various treasonous and criminal activities that endanger our country. This mountain is laced with lead and it is impossible for our enemies to trace our signals or locate us.”
Mason looked around the area, dozens of people were working at computer terminals, while others were monitoring various news networks and military movements, domestic and foreign. “Very impressive. Would I be wrong if I said that your Intel comes from confidential sources in our government?”
General Whitfield said, “Every person here and those working undercover knows the difference between loyalty to the country and loyalty to the corrupt bureaucrats in the government.”
“Aren’t you taking a chance showing me this?” Mason asked.
General Whitfield laughed, “None at all, everybody knows your record. You would rather die than betray a comrade or your country.”
“I had a couple years left at Pendleton before I retired, so you might as well put me to work.” Mason said. “I’m a little out of practice doing this kind of stuff, but let’s see if you can teach this old dog some new tricks.”
The media went into a frenzy for a few days when they found out about Mason’s disappearance. Eventually it became old news and the reporters with a hidden agenda had no other choice but to move on to more timely stories.
This secret organization had people working in every agency in the government as well as in many politicians’ offices. When they found out about criminal or unethical behavior, they relayed the Intel to a secret website, The Patriot Sanctuary. General Whitfield and his team of strategists then determine if the Intel was actionable.
Mason was assigned to work with a group of special operators and over the next few years he helped to take down a California Congressman who was dating a Chinese spy and a brother of the Secretary of Housing who was subleasing hundreds of buildings, then renting them back to the government for five times what he was paying.
Mason’s team traveled to the Ukraine to intercept a four hundred thousand dollar bribe meant for a U.S. Senator who authorized millions in aid to a foreign energy company. He also helped to take down several high ranking IRS officials who were skimming money from racetracks around the country.
The list of nefarious activities was endless and there was always a team somewhere in the world on a mission. General Whitfield called Mason into his office after six months on the job, “How do you like working here so far?”
Mason smiled, “The accommodations are first class, food is top notch and the work is interesting. I do miss the beach a little bit, but other than that.”
“Feel like heading back to the San Diego area?” General Whitfield asked.
“I go where you send me. What have you got?”
General Whitfield explained, “A border patrol agent found a major tunnel from Tijuana, Mexico to Otay Mesa. When he reported it, his supervisors told him that the DEA had it under surveillance and ordered him to do nothing. That didn’t sound right so he kept watching it and noticed a lot of activity. Realizing that nothing was going to be done, he contacted us. We’ve done some preliminary investigating and it seems that some very influential people in our government, the entertainment industry the business sector are using it for human trafficking purposes.”
“And my assignment?” Mason asked.
General Whitfield laid it out clear and simple, “Rescue as many girls as you can, destroy the tunnel and terminate the traffickers. These people are too well connected to ever see the inside of a courtroom or a prison cell. Before they could testify, they would end up like Jeffrey Epstein.”
Mason and his team rescued 46 under-aged girls, killed 16 human traffickers and filled the tunnel with two thousand gallons of gasoline before dropping a large explosive charge into it. The ensuing explosion and fire destroyed the tunnel and eliminated it for further use.
President Joseph Harris’ scandal-filled administration had miserably failed the American people and he was easily voted out of office. Former Marine Colonel and current Senator, Ronald Banks, was elected 47th President of the United States. One of his first orders of business after being sworn in was to give a full presidential pardon to Mason Flynn.
This American warrior fought for this country beneath the surface in a foreign land, then fought another war within our own borders. When given his pardon, Mason recited the famous quote that was even more appropriate now than it was when Ulysses S. Grant wrote it on April 21, 1861. “They are only but two parties in this country, traitors and patriots. And I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter, and I trust the stronger.”
President Banks seconded the sentiment, “Well said, I swear to never forget those words. You can shoot me if I do.”