Chapter 4: The Beginning of the Inevitable End
Mark had fallen asleep for only two hours. He felt tired and sore. His arms felt like they were ready to tear into shreds and he felt as if his legs were going to fall off from the thigh down. Mark got up slowly as if he was rising from the dead. He looked at his watch and studied it. He realized that he was supposed to be in the briefing room five minutes. Mark hurried to put his uniform on and his pistol belt. He reached for his cap but then suddenly fell. He was confused at first but realized why he had fallen. His right leg was cramping up and he rushed to pound out the tightening muscle. He cringed in pain and the cramp would just not go away. Finally, the rapid pounding and rubbing of his leg had paid off. The muscle had loosened; he stood up slowly and grabbed his cap. Mark limped towards the briefing room. Upon opening the curtain he saw all of his men sitting on the benches in front of the screen. They all turned their heads back toward him and then slowly looked back at the screen. Mark tried as humanly possible to not limp in front of his men, but he could not totally hide it.
"Hey what's up with the limp?" asked Martinez.
Mark replied, "Cramp."
Martinez sneered a little, "Get a cramp fuckin' some whore?"
Mark let out a little chuckle but still kept a serious face. "Martinez just shut up and listen."
Martinez's face turned from a playful grin to a determined, serious frown. "Eyes forward!" A bark came from the front of the briefing tent. The Lieutenant stood proudly in front of the war torn Marines.
"Today 3rd Platoon will be sent back into Binh Dinh." The Marines sighed. "Now I know it's your third time in but there have been reports of an underground tunnel system leading from a small village into some mountains. Your job is to discover the location of the entrance point to the tunnel system and then rig it with explosives towards the end of the village. I don't want any civilian casualties so make sure you're at a distance that would keep the village and villagers still intact. Understood?"
All of 3rd Platoon stood up, "Sir, yes sir!"
The Lieutenant grinned. "You're dismissed. Regroup at the helipads at thirteen hundred."
Mark limped back to the barracks. Mark first slipped on his flak jacket, and then he continued to clip his pistol belt to himself. After that he grabbed his M16 ammo bandolier and slid it over his right shoulder so that it would run down the left side. Mark grabbed his M16 and helmet and jogged to the helipads. Mark had come to see that all of his men were sitting all together and were whispering faintly. He stopped jogging and started walking, slowly.
Although it was faint, he could still hear the whispers. "……..If it weren't for him Jameson would still be alive…….Naw man, that's bullshit……….True, I bet we gonna get our asses handed to us thanks to the all-powerful Sgt. Howard."
Mark stopped in his tracks. Mark knew what they were talking about. Jameson's death was of nobody's fault except Jameson and Mark knew that, or at least he felt he knew it. Mark started walking towards his men until he finally arrived at Kneilson's feet.
"Alright pile on in to the choppers, make sure you have all of your gear. This is a search and destroy mission so everyone needs to be on high alert!"
The men slowly got up and threw their gear into the chopper behind them. Some of the men sneered at Mark or gave him dirty looks. Mark knew what they were for, but he didn't want to bring it up before a mission. Soon after loading the gear the chopper pilots were spotted walking to the helicopters. They then opened the doors on the helicopters and strapped in.
Mark yelled, "Alright everyone hop in."
Mark let all of his men get in first and then hopped onto the edge with his back directly on the wall splitting the crew from the pilots. Mark pulled out a cigarette and began to light it. One drag was all he needed, he calmed down within the instance of letting the first puff out.
Cpl. Jackson started to pull over everybody so that he could sit next to Mark. Jackson tapped Mark's shoulder, "Hey we gonna get cut up in there?"
Mark was surprised at the question, but he steadily replied, "No, enemy count is low. Maybe even none. Just be on guard for an ambush."
"What, like that last one? Where Jameson died? I'd appreciate it if you told us everything, Sarge."
That pissed Mark off. He had had with Jackson. Jackson never knew when to keep his mouth shut. The engines started and the propeller began to spin.
"I'd sure appreciate it if you and your little sewing circle would fucking talk to me instead of about me!"
The helicopter began to take off. Jackson hung his head, as well as the rest of 3rd platoon. They all knew what they did.
"That's the problem with you Jackson, you don't know when to shut the fuck up!"
They were now over the jungle near Binh Dinh. One of the pilots turned his head back towards 3rd platoon.
"We'll be landing at LZ Zulu soon, get ready."
The men all perked up and grabbed their gear. Mark took the cigarette out of his mouth and flicked towards the jungle. The helicopter now had landed within a field that was right on the edge of the small village. Everyone jumped out and waited for commands. Mark went from a crouching position to standing position.
Mark started to walk through the thick grass. A dusty dirt road had appeared within Mark's sight. He moved towards the road. They were now on a dirt trail that led to the small village. Once they had approached the entrance Mark stopped his men.
"Alright I want teams of three. Split up and search for any tunnel entrances. I don't want any casualties and don't harm the villagers in any way. I see one bruise and I'll kill you myself, understood?"
Jackson replied in a sarcastic and unenthusiastic voice, "Sir, yes sir."
Mark grabbed Martinez and Kneilson to come along with him. They started walking from hut to hut searching their floors and even checking in their yards and gardens for entrances. None of the villagers refused any of the men access to their homes. But then Mark had arrived at a larger hut. He knocked on the rotting, wooden door. There was no answer. He knocked again, still no answer. Mark turned around to see that all of the villagers were rushing to their homes. Something was in there and they knew about it. Mark motioned his men to stack up against the wall. Mark positioned himself so that he could kick the door open from standing by a wall.
Mark lifted up his hand towards Martinez. "1….2…………3."
Mark kicked the door open. A barrage of bullets came flying out of the door. No one, however, was in the crossfire. The firing stopped, Mark then heard a gun magazine hit the hard, wooden floor. Mark turned into the doorway and saw two NVA soldiers reloading their AKs. Mark brought up his M16 and pulled the trigger until there was no more ammo left within the mag. Martinez and Kneilson stepped in only to find to NVA soldiers lying on the ground with their blood draped over the walls and the floor. Mark still stood there with his rifle pointing forwards. Martinez came up behind Mark and tapped his shoulder.
"Uh, sir, the entrance remember?"
Mark snapped out of it. "Oh, yeah, search around for a entrance within the floor.
Martinez and Kneilson searched the floor carefully. Martinez and then found a small man made hole within one of the floor boards.
"Hey I think I found it!"
Mark rushed over to where Martinez was pointing. Mark then pulled up on the floor board to discover the entrance to the tunnel.
"Alright, Kneilson, go in there and go until you reach a pike coming from the surface. When you see it thrust a pike up through the surface and then plant the explosives." Kneilson crawled in with his flashlight out. Mark motioned Martinez to follow him. Mark the grabbed the rest of his men. Jackson pulled out a metal pike and gave it to Mark. They ran all the way to the other side of the village and then walked about a mile out. Mark picked a spot and then thrusted the pike through the surface and into the ground.
They waited, and waited, and waited. About a half hour had passed now. The men started to worry, even Mark started to worry. But then they heard a thump, coming from the ground, and then another thump, and another, until they saw a pike jutting out of the ground. The men were relieved. They waited about a half hour more until they saw Kneilson running towards them.
"Kneilson you got the detonator?" Mark asked.
Kneilson had stopped in front of Mark and then handed him the detonator.
"Alright get back to the tree line!"
They started to move back towards the tree line which was about one fourth of a mile away from the blast zone. Mark motioned them to get down, and then he slowly pulled the trigger. A large blast had rocked them. Mark turned back towards Kneilson.
"How much did you put in there?"
Kneilson replied, "The amount you gave me."
Mark was confused; the blast should not have been that large. Then another large explosion occurred within about a half mile from the first blast site, and another blast followed that one and more kept appearing until it finally go to the mountain. Mark waited a while. A large ball of fire and smoke erupted from the side of the mountain. Mark knew what they had done. The NVA had lined the tunnel and the mountain base with explosives so that if discovered the U.S. could not get their hands on any important information.
Mark sat down in a small brush for a while.
"So, what do we do now Sarge?" Jackson asked.
"We go to our extraction point."
Mark and his men got up and trekked back towards the field where the chopper was waiting for them. They all piled in. Mark reached for a cigarette. But he had none left, so he sat there feeling the worst kind of anxiety.
The helicopter had returned them back to base. They all walked slowly to their barracks. Mark was upset, not because of the tunnel, no, he could not have known I was lined with explosives but because he had been on a roll with bad luck. Mark stripped himself of his gear and his BDU shirt and fell onto his cot. He could not sleep, not without a cigarette. So he laid there, and just stared at the ceiling.
"What a complex ceiling…" Mark thought to himself. "It's not elegant, it's wood, but the grains are so complex and entrancing. The small, tiny splinters jutting from it give it a textured look and the individual lengths add a bit of balance and it deviates from the repetitiveness of that of small huts within villages."
All while thinking this Mark had calmed down, he was finally able to get some sleep, or so he thought.