MUTUM OPERATION – THE CRATERA
Captain Peixoto, sitting in the cabin of the heavy camouflaged truck, did not appear to be very happy. The day was cold and the rain didn’t seem to want to subside. On the contrary, the storm descended on them. A sulphurous lightning cleared the sky and the heavy clouds roared ominously, like huge sounding boxes. As if that were some kind of signal, a violent downpour began to fall.
The big REO M-34 truck snored its powerful engine and kept going down the dirt road, now pure mud, no matter what was ahead. He was brave and used to difficult terrain.
The Brazilian Army had started using REO trucks in 1958, when about 270 were purchased second hand from the United States army.
The REO M-34 was a VTNE (Non-Specialized Transport Vehicle of 2 ½ Ton, of American origin, which had already been used by the Brazilian army in campaigns to support the contingents sent by Brazil to compose the troops employed at UNEF (United Nation Emergency Force) in efforts to pacify the conflict between Israel and Egypt In Brazil, the REO M-34s were used in troop transport missions, towing artillery pieces and other non-specialized logistics functions. in Mutum.
Tucked up in his military cloak, Captain Peixoto watched the movement of the windshield wipers come and go in front of him, while his thoughts wandered, distant.
It was in 1972 that Captain Peixoto had been in Mutum for the first time. At that time, he was commanding a troop sent from Juiz de Fora, in charge of securing the city during municipal elections. He had been in town for an entire week. Everything had happened without the occurrence of any major incident that could threaten the tranquility of the election. When he returned to the barracks, he had been greeted and received a compliment to be added to his service record. Now he was there again, on a mission to command his men in search of the bombs lost by an airplane. Mission shit, he thought. “We only found two of those fucking bombs and I’ve already had two casualties.” Looking out through the truck window, he said to his driver, Private Mountain, “Go carefully on this climb, damn it. We just need to roll on a bank like this ”. When he had received the mission in Major Alfredo’s office, Major Alfredo had informed him that it would be a smooth and safe operation, to be carried out in a few days and, certainly, without any risk to his men. Now, they were there under a real flood, sliding in the mud and, to make matters worse, they had only found two bombs. Irritated, he turned and was going to say something to Private Mountain, when it seemed to him that the world was going to end.
Sergeant Pereira stood out wherever he was. Tall, thin, angular features, dark eyes, impassive manner and a large mouth with thin lips with an expression that could even show some sympathy. But Sergeant Pereira was no angel. Any smarter person would soon know that being your friend was good, but having him as an enemy was a very bad thing. For this reason, his subordinates did not even blink to carry out all his orders. It didn’t matter what they were. Sergeant Pereira, sitting in the back of his body, seemed absorbed and uninterested in everything that cold, damp morning. However, his gaze followed what was happening around him and his senses were heightened. Keyed up. He seemed to sense that something was wrong and that something was going to happen. Nobody said a word and the silence was not absolute, because, from time to time, it was broken by thunder that followed the streak of lightning in the sky. “It seems that the world will end in water,” thought Sergeant Pereira as he stared at the opening of the hood, trying to see the road. “What a dangerous road this shit road is. I can not see anything”
That’s when it just happened.
The Mountain Soldier carefully guided the REO down the muddy and winding road, watching the great puddles, always hoping to find a hole in them. Occasionally, he looked beside him, where Captain Peixoto was. He realized, right at the beginning of the trip, still in the city, that the captain was not well “He woke up with the egg turned over,” he thought. “It will be pissing me all the time, for sure.” Mountain Soldier, however, couldn’t be worried about what happened to Captain Peixoto. He had to worry about the road, the mud and the holes, Sergeant Pereira and the soldiers in the body. And the bluffs. Not counting the stones.
“Holy shit, what more granddaughter’s stones” he admired, looking at those big blocks of granite, which seemed to hang over the road. “Ah if this shit sucks”. He felt a chill go through his body. The heavy truck climbed slowly, in low gear, without any hurry. The Mountain Soldier also seemed to be in no hurry to lead his passengers to the end of the route traced by Captain Peixoto. “I’m going very slowly because I’m in a hurry,” he said softly, with a smile. “There is no point in rushing if we are unable to reach the end.”
The rain was intense and the windshield wipers were barely able to keep out the amount of water that dripped, leaving the glass foggy. Mountain Soldier already had some difficulty seeing the road. The wipers were running at full speed and although it was daytime, the headlights were on, casting two beams of light in front of the REO.
Upon hearing the crash, Soldier Mountain felt that the whole truck jerked and instinctively and violently stepped on the brake, holding the steering wheel firmly. Then he saw that he was no longer in control of anything.
Lieutenant Philogonio was seated in the cabin of the second truck that formed the convoy and was driven by Private Carlúcio.
For safety reasons, each vehicle was positioned about fifty meters from each other and, at that distance, under that real storm, it was only possible to follow the taillights of what was ahead.
Private Carlúcio heard the crash while he saw Private Mountain had hit the brakes of the truck in front of him. He did the same with what he was driving. With his braking, Lieutenant Philogonio, who was dozing, was thrown forward violently, just not hitting the windshield because he was prevented by the seat belt. But his body was shaken violently. “What the fuck is that, soldier? Got crazy?” he shouted as he tried to balance himself. The heavy truck still skidded for a few meters, before stopping across the narrow road. In the body, Sergeant Colombo, as well as the soldiers, who did not wait for the strike, were thrown forward, falling on each other. Then, with the other three trucks, there was a domino effect, with each one stopping next to the other, in a disordered way, as they realized that the one in front had braked.
Soldier Mountain and Captain Peixoto, at the moment of the crash, could see, at the same time, when the big stone moved, in the ravine on the left, some hundred meters in front of them. At first, slowly, causing a large amount of clay to descend on the road. Then everything collapsed and a river of mud came down carrying everything it found along the way. The truck, with Brakes applied by Soldier Mountain, was shaken violently and pushed back. The slide did not last more than a few seconds. But when it was over, there was no more road where the mud passed. There was only a huge hole left. A huge crater. The REO 34, led by Soldier Montanha, carrying Captain Peixoto, Sergeant Pereira and a handful of soldiers, had just not been swallowed by that extraordinary crater.
Recovered from the scare, Captain Peixoto made a quick assessment of the situation of his men and, after verifying that none were injured, radioed the barracks in Mutum, reporting the events. The connection between the main road between Mutum and Lajinha was not known until when, interrupted. And he ended his statement by stating “You can’t even walk here anymore on foot”.
It was getting dark when the train returned to the barracks. No other bombs had been found. The road to Lajinha was interrupted. The rain did not stop. The square was empty. Bar do Paulo was almost without any movement. But it was there that I took refuge that night, with a group of friends who, like me, were afraid of being stuck at home when it rained and ran out into the street at the sound of the first thunder. As long as there was an issue, we would stay there, sitting at Bar do Paulo, waiting for the dawn. When I retired to sleep it was after four in the morning and the rain was still falling insistently and cold.
(To be continued next week)