Landing Zone in Hell

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
Story about a group of soldiers being evacuated from a so-called hot L.Z.

Submitted: October 16, 2016

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Submitted: October 16, 2016

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Landing Zone in Hell

The L.Z. lay roasting in the midday sun, the elephant grass barely moving in the slight breeze in the broad valley that was carved out of the hills by the now almost trickling stream that would turn into a raging torrent as soon as the monsoon rains arrived.  A pair of butterflies were fluttering around some large boulders at the edge of the stream just in front of the tree line where a platoon of marines were waiting to be picked up by the four Hueys that would whisk them off to safety again. The weary soldiers were lying around in the shade of the trees, trying to relax. Some were playing cards, while others tried to sleep after the exhausting hike through the jungle that had started  an hour before dawn. Two marines were  continuously scrutinizing the perimeter, alert to any disturbance of the elephant grass that may be caused by Charlie trying to infiltrate the enemy.
Marine Dick O’Hare was playing poker with his buddies Ron Cleveland and Stan Mitchell, just as they had done at every opportunity they had had during the patrol that had lasted four days. As soon as they had a bit of time to kill, Cleveland had dug his cards from one of his ammo pouches and they had started a game, always just the three of them, no one else, they were just too good  for the others to try their luck against them. Just Steven, the new kid, had tried to play with them once, on the first night out, but within half an hour he had lost almost an entire week’s pay, so that Sergeant Collins had stepped in and told him to leave the game before they would strip him completely.
O’Hare was glad that the patrol was coming to an end. It had all been a waste of time, their objective had been to find Charlie, and kill as many of them as they could. It had all sounded really simple ,it was even called a routine job but like it was with almost everything in this country , things had become more complicated than expected as soon as the plan was put into action. They had hiked for days without ever seeing a single enemy soldier. Even the villages they had come across had been devoid of life. The locals had fled their villages as soon as they had heard about their presence, even taking their skinny pigs and chickens with them.  In one place they must have fled just minutes before the marines had shown up because the cooking fires in some of the thatched huts were still burning. It was extremely eerie to walk around those deserted places, knowing that the people that belonged there were somewhere in the vicinity, but you just didn’t know where. O’Hare had felt that tingly feeling along his spine as if he was being watched all the time, expecting to feel a bullet slam into his flesh at any moment. It had played havoc with his nerves. Judging by the remarks made by all the other guys, they had all felt similar things. Although they hadn’t done so themselves, he could understand why some platoons took to torching those spooky, shabby villages with their atmosphere of doom.
The men had waited for almost an hour when Lieutenant Melnick walked over to Ryan Culvert, the platoon’s radio operator. “Okay, Ryan, get division again; those choppers should have been here twenty minutes ago. It  looks like they’ve forgotten about us. As much as I like lazing about in the sun, I don’t want to spend any more time in this place than necessary.”
Culvert switched on his set and softly gave the call sign while he pressed the earphones to one ear. Within seconds he made contact with division. “Hey Johnny, what’s up man? Are we going to get that ride home you promised us?  Please get those choppers up her in a hurry, we’re sitting ducks here, man.”  He waited for the other guy to answer, while being watched by all the guys who were dying to hear what was being said.
“Man that sucks! How long? …. Fucking sissies, they should spend some time with us out here. We’d love a bit of rain. … Okay Johnny, just tell them to hurry up. We don’t like to get our asses shot off. …. No, it isn’t a hot L.Z. yet, but Charlie must know we’re around somewhere. Just get those choppers over here.”  Then Culvert signed off and turned to Lieutenant Melnick.
“Bad news, Sir. Those choppers are still at the base, there’s a downpour over there, started an hour ago, can’t get the choppers up, they can’t see a thing. The met guys think it may be another hour until they can get airborne. “
Lieutenant Melnick nodded. “Shit, I don’t like the sound of that. Charlie must be around here somewhere, it’s just a matter of time before they figure out where they may find us. I hope the choppers are here before they do. Okay men, keep your eyes open, we may be here for a while. Make sure you have plenty of water.” Then he walked away to check on our guards.

Things started to go wrong half an hour later.
O’Hare had just begun his shift of guarding the left flank when he saw something through the elephant grass. It was a subtle movement a half a click away. He could easily have missed it, a patch of long grass just waved a bit more vigorously than the surrounding grass. O’Hare dropped to the ground and softly hissed, then he gave the arm signal for enemy contact. Immediately, everyone stopped whatever they were doing ,grabbed their weapons and dropped to the ground. Total silence reigned, just the babbling of the water could be heard. The men crept behind rocks and tree trunks in order to find cover. Lieutenant Melnick slowly crept to O’Hare.
“What’s up?”  he whispered.
“Movement at eleven o’clock, half a click.”
“Charlie?”
“Don’t know.”
“Animal?”
O’Hare shrugged his shoulders.
The two men lay pressed to the ground, the muzzles of their M-16’s pointing towards the area where the grass had moved. For about a minute nothing happened, but then there was some violent shaking of the grass further away as if more than one individual was moving through the grass.
“You spotted the point man,” said Lieutenant Melnick, “The others are over there. They are moving parallel to us. With a bit of luck they will vanish into the tree line again.” Then he turned around, put his fingertip to his lips and signaled to the men to stay down.”
For ten minutes the grass moved, but the movement didn’t come any closer. Then everything became quiet again as the enemy disappeared into the jungle. The marines remained silently in place; eyes darting around to see what was happening, their fingers on the triggers.
It didn’t take long for the weather to change, rain clouds drifted in, turning the sky into a dome of lead. Within minutes the first raindrops started to fall, large drops that splashed on the ground, turning the baked soil into a muddy mess in no time. The men got their ponchos from their backpacks and settled down with their rifles between their legs, making the surface area that could get wet as small as possible.
“Just what we needed,” O’Hare whispered to the man nearest to him.
“You may be right, “ Lieutenant Melnick replied. “They can’t hear us now, the rain on those leaves will take care of that. You don’t have to whisper anymore.”
He went over to Culvert again and said: “Find out about those choppers. “
Immediately, Culvert called up division.
“We’re in luck, “he said to Lieutenant Melnick after switching off his transmitter again. “They’ve left the base. They will be here in about twenty minutes. Let’s hope they can land in this shit.”
“With a bit of luck, this rain will hide the sound of their rotors, a hot L.Z. is something I really hate.”

  For twenty minutes nothing happened, than all of a sudden the men spotted two dark spots in the rain moving quickly towards them.

“They’re here, “ O’Hare said. “I hope they can find us.”
“They will, “Lieutenant Melnick retorted. “You can give them some smoke, fifty yards past the stream. Quickly!” He handed two smoke grenades to O’Hare who took them, sprinted towards, the stream, jumped across it and ran fifty meters into the long grass. Red smoke started to billow upwards. Then the sound of the rotors could be heard, close enough not to be muffled by the falling rain.
“Okay men, let’s run for it. Our taxi has arrived.”  Lieutenant Melnickbent forward and started running towards the choppers, followed by his platoon. Before he had taken half a dozen steps, he stumbled forward as the rattling of small arms fire could be heard.
Charlie had finally arrived.
O’Hare who was only two  paces behind the Lieutenant went down next to his platoon commander as the pressure wave of a mortar shell blew him from his feet. He quickly rolled over and brought up his M-16, but he couldn’t see anything to shoot at. A quick glance at Lieutenant Melnick told him that the officer had been badly wounded, blood was gushing from his mouth as he tried to speak. O’Hare couldn’t hear what the lieutenant tried to say, the rotors, the mortar shells going off and the crackle of automatic fire, made it impossible to hear anything else. With his M-16 cradled in one arm, he slid over to the wounded man and started to drag him towards the chopper that was only thirty yards away. For a couple of moments, the wounded man tried to creep along with him, but he soon stopped moving at all. O’Hare heaved with all his strength, but as he turned to look at Melnick again, he let go of the corpse that had been his leader just a couple of moments before. It was no use trying to drag a corpse towards the chopper. Moving like a crab, O’Hare scurried forward again keeping his eyes fixed on the chopper that flattened the long blades of grass. When he reached the chopper, he scrambled to his feet again and threw himself inside. A pair of helpful hands yanked him inside and almost threw him into a corner of the secluded space. Almost immediately another body landed on top of him as Ryan Culvert was rescued in the same manner. Both men raised themselves  so that they could look through the open door of the chopper.
Without uttering a word, both men watched the drama unfold itself in front of them. The N.V.A. soldiers were all over the place. There must have been dozens of them, all of them firing at the men desperately scrambling for the choppers. At the same time, the machine gunners at the open doors of the Huey sprayed the area with their .50 ammo, knocking down enemy soldiers as if they were bowling pins.
O’Hare could see Ron Cleveland trying to drag his wounded buddy Stan Mitchel towards the chopper, a futile attempt at rescue that was thwarted by three N.V.A. men that opened up on them with their A.K-47 s from just five meters away. O’Hare turned his face away as the bullets tore through his card buddies, killing them on the spot. When he looked at them again, they were just bloody rag dolls soaking in the rain. The new kid didn’t stand a chance either, he was only twelve yards from the other chopper when the smallest soldier imaginable suddenly appeared from the tall grass only three steps away from him, a short burst from the  A.K.-47  made sure the kid would never join another card game.  It was then that one of the machineguns in the chopper jammed. The soldier firing the gun, tried to yank the bolt back, but slumped to the floor as he was mortally hit by several bullets himself, spraying the two men on the floor with his blood. Bullets started ricocheting through the chopper, singing loudly as they flew around. Miraculously, the other men in the chopper were not hit by any of them.  The enemy mortar shells now started to fall almost on top of the choppers, making it impossible for the pilots to stay any longer. The sound of the rotors increased as the two choppers started to rise, all the time being hit by small arms fire. The two men inside the chopper grabbed on to the folding seats above them, when the choppers tore to the left in order to escape from the withering fire. It was then that they saw the man stepping from the tree line with an R.P.G. on his shoulder. It took him only a moment to take aim and fire the rocket.  The rocket slammed into the other Huey that exploded in a ball of fire. The men saw the burning wreck tumble down and slam into the small stream where it caused a cloud of smoke and steam.

Forty minutes later, the Huey carrying O’Hare and Culvert touched down at divisional headquarters. The men clambered from the bullet  ridden chopper, physically unhurt, but scarred for life.  As they walked towards the large bunker at the center of the base, O’Hare turned to Culvert and said: “Why the fuck did they call this a routine job?”

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Bert Broomberg. All rights reserved.

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