And Then It Is Either Too Late Or Love Goes

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
Soldier returns from Vietnam and goes to college where he gets involved with a girl and there are unforeseen connections to an event that happened in Vietnam.

Submitted: August 22, 2016

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Submitted: August 22, 2016

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The campus of the University of North Dakota was white and bitterly cold from the effects of an early December snowstorm.  Temperatures had dipped to minus 25 degrees and combined with a 30 mph wind blowing down from the plains of Manitoba, the windchill was near intolerable.  Neal Moore sat by his dorm window and watched the bundled up students shuffling through the snow and wind to their classes.  Minus 40 degrees realy does keep out the riffraff he thought.  The hell with it, he thought, I am not going to class.

His mind raced back two years to when he was in Vietnam.  His squad was on patrol again and Neal was the point man.  The squad had been on patrol for twenty-one straight days. Everyone was tired and tense, and there seemed no end in sight.  Two members had been violently killed during this period and these recollections weighed heavily on their mind.  The first was a sniper shot through the head. They never found the sniper.  The second was a booby trap and man fell in on fifteen sharpened  feces smeared bamboo shoots.  He had been well liked and was only two weeks from going home.  Yet every day they were sent out again to find and kill Charlie. 

Point was the first man exposed to the enemy and Neal was on point again for the fourth time in ten days.  He knew that Sgt Hartel disliked him, in part because he got along with the 'Black boys'. Hartel was from Texas and he hated everywhere and everyone that wasn't Texas.  Vietnam was the asshole of the world and everything north of the southern border of Oklahoma was the armpit of the country.  Hartel's dislike for Neal was reciprocated by Neal and by the rest of the squad.

Neal's mind moved to the incident that happened that hot, humid buggy afternoon.  It was something he would never forget.  They had been on patrol for about four hours.  Neal spotted a young Vietnamese girl hiding behind a bush.  Her terrified eyes were staring up at him.  Neal kept his M16 trained on her and hollered back to Sgt Hartel.  Hartel came running up.  He stopped and looked at the girl.  "Shoot the Gook" he said.

"Are you fucking crazy?"  Neal snapped at him.  Before Neal could react, Hartel raised his rifle and fired a three round burst into her head.  Her lifeless body sagged to the ground as if in slow motion.  It was not the first time Hartel had killed a non-combatant.  He had once launced an M79 grenade in to a village.  The grenade landed at the feet of an old man and he was blown ten feet in the air.

Neal Moore took a quick step forward and rammed the butt of his rifle into Hartel's groin with all of the force he could muster.  As Hartel curled over, the barrel of Moore's weapon smashed into Hartel's head  and he dropped to the ground against a jutting rock.

Neal was brought to the present by the entrance of his roommate Terry and Reid from down the hall. It was obvious they had been drinking and having a good time.  "Cuttin class, Neal?" Terry asked.

Neal and Terry got along well as roommates.  Terry was an easy going business major, and like Neal, OTA.  Neal decided to join the party.  It would be a good way to get ready for the hockey game that night.  They headed out to Matt's Tavern.

That night the Golden Gophers were at the barn and the winner of the weekend series would be in first place in the WCHA.  Every Sioux-Gophers series was big, but this matchup was bigger most. Inside the arena was crowded and noisy.  It was also cold as the barn was not heated.  Neal, Terry and Reid found seats mid-row in the student section in front of fraternity band playing a rousing version of the beer barrel polka.  Neal took a sip from the flask in his coat and looked around. Behind him one row was a girl from his psych class.  She was very attractive.  Neal knew that her first name was Linda, but he didn't know her last name.  

After the first period ended, Neal made his way down the row to go for some hotdogs. As he passed in front of Linda, he paused and she looked up at him.  "Hi Linda" he heard himself say.  "I'm going to the refreshment stand.  Want a Coke or something?"   "No thank you" she said with a warm smile. "Look" Neal said, "Terry and Reid and I are sitting over there.  Would you like to join us?"  "Sure" she said and her two friends smiled with knowing approval.  "Mary and Jenny, I'd like you to meet...I don't know your name."  "It's Bond.  James Bond" he said and they all laughed.  "It's Neal.  Neal Moore.  I know your first name is Linda, but I don't know your last name.'  "Linda Hartel" she said.  

Neal involuntarily flinched.  "Where are you from, Linda?" he asked quietly.  "Waco, Texas" she said, "and you had better hurry or you are going to miss the second period."

Neal and Linda had a good time that night.  He enjoyed being with her and she seemed to like being with him.  He was a little taken aback when she confirmed that Sgt Hartel was her brother.  Yet, as they got to know each other, his concerns wanned.  She was not like her brother.  She was friendly, intelligent and very independent.  That was why she had decided to go to college so far from home.  

Neal and Linda saw each other several times during the next couple of weeks.  They took in a basketball game, saw "The Sting" and "Lawrence of Arabia", or at least most of it and had spent a Wednesday night at Matt's followed by a grinder at the Red Pepper.  Then Christmas came and they were separated for the holidays.  Both were anxious for the holiday season to end so they could see each other again.

Neal returned from Christmas on a Sunday.  The weather was still bitterly cold.  He waited anxiously for 5:30 to roll around so he could go to the airport and pick up Linda.  Linda was prettier then ever. As they headed back to her apartment, Neal thought about the fact that he had never tried to be intimate with her, and her wondered how she felt about that.  But he couldn't--not until he told her. He made up his mind.  He would tell her that night.

Inside the apartment, they exchanged a long warm kiss.  Neither wanted to break away.  Linda ran her hand inside Neal's coat and whispered in his ear "Why don't you stay for awhile."  She took his hand and looked toward the bedroom.

Neal paused and looked sadly in to her eyes. "Before we do, there is something I have to tell you." He paused again, shifted his weight and let out a long sigh.  In a low voice he said "I killed your brother...."

 


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