Chapter 38: Aucun Chemin de la Rédemption.

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

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Aucun Chemin de la Rédemption.

"You know bro, it ain’t any use that skinny kid over there whining about some silly-asshole with his arms blown off, for the heavy hand of death touches us all in the end. See, I told ya, the kid just got his head fucked-up by the gooks. What an excellent idea, if you don’t have a brain, then there’s no goddamn pain.”

Corporal “Bayou” Lejeune doing some "philosophizing", Saigon River, 1967.


The War was propelling us ever deeper into it, and Charlie was becoming increasingly aggressive in the Southland. That produced a mounting anxiety within the military autocrats back in the world that a major action by the gooks would soon materialize. In addition, they seemed to be ignorant of the gooks deception tactics experienced by the people actually fighting them. Overall, there appeared to be some form of disconnection between those who were there in the Southland and those who were not.

As it happened, the CIA in Saigon had some time before anticipated there would be trouble brewing on the fighting horizon, and although known to be masters of expedients they were not the type for employing precipitous intervention, and so had settled on a measured analysis of the intelligence before making any final judgments regarding a suitable reaction.

One thing the intelligence guys had proof positive about was that the VC could mount a variety of complex actions using a mix of units, for they had a highly efficient chain of command all the way up to their Divisional level. The CIA knew it and in turn gave them credit for it. Just as they also knew that the workings of the oriental mind was as big a mystery as is the dark side of the moon, but for whatever reason it was something that some within our chain of command just did not want to hear, preferring to base all their plans on western thinking.

Eventually the intelligence analysis made it crystal clear that Charlie was preparing for some form of an offensive, and that a permanent military presence would be prudent to have in an area that hadn’t properly seen one in a couple of years. The area was very close to the Cambodian border and about forty klicks southeast of the Saigon River.

Any Marine Corps is in essence a seaborne infantry force, which obviously makes every Marine an infantryman, a hardheaded breed much better suited for use in attack than in defense. Nevertheless, I never did consider myself the infantry type, which is why I trained as a Riverine, but now acting in an infantry role was starting to piss me off, for all it seemed to offer was constant exhaustion, thirst, and pain.  But no matter, for once the “code of the grunt” was accepted it could not be retracted nor deviated from because it made you part of a lifelong fraternity, a fellowship of goddamned half-crazy fuckers who would keep on following an unwritten code.


The first twenty klicks up to the “AO”, area of operations, we covered as chalks in a flight of slicks and gunships, which was peacefully uneventful, and even boring. The next fifteen we rode in trucks, and the final five was on foot, with everyone loaded like pack-mules. Before or since, that was the heaviest ruck I have ever carried, filled to its absolute maximum capacity with ammo and gear. For we were out for a long stay in the boonie, and there was the possibility of no re-supply for quite some time. To compound our pain there was a strict water discipline in force so thirst was slowly killing us. Over those five klicks we did not walk, we staggered, bent over and gasping away for air like wheezy lung old men.

The speeding trucks had kicked up great swirling clouds of red dust from roads that became heavily rutted as they changed from good to bad, and then terrible. That red dust stuck to everything, weapons, gear, and sweat, giving us the pallor of the old west plains Indians and making us itch all over. We passed fucked-up forests made so by Agent Orange from the "Ranch-hand missions", enormous B52 bombing-strike craters, farmers and their water buffalos, and villagers at the roadside, mostly women and kids who would wave and smile, but many of the older boys and men just turned their backs as if giving defiance at our unwanted presence.

At roadside shanty stores, made from scavenged material with piles of garbage beside them we purchased spiced fish rolled in bread, and other supplements to our detestable C-rations by using packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes as currency. Then on we went, rattling and rolling alongside the wide river with its paddy fields that ran inland, then bumping and rumbling through rock-strewn streams and savannah to our drop-off point.

Once we had humped our way up to the fighting area, we deployed in a simple assault line, taking up position in dense bush made up from tangles of bamboo, thorn and creepers, and fairly close to Charlie’s estimated fighting positions which were in thick trees and heavy scrub jungle, and which looked out of reach by rifle fire. Just in case a live target happened to appear to give us a proper range value we sighted the target area. The leaders of the flanking squads were decided upon, and whose squads would sweep each flank of Chuck’s positions during the attack; all were experienced and reliable bush-beasts.

Any field commander with little or no up-to-date intelligence on the enemy strength before the preparation of an attack strategy is effectively just wasting everyone’s time and energy, for if he ignores the intelligence fundamental then any plan he comes up with is going to be fucked at the very outset. Therefore, patrols were sent forth to glean whatever could be gleaned about Charlie.

It is extremely important to go about probing enemy positions looking for weaknesses such as those poorly prepared, or others not supported by machine-gun crossfire, as it often happens that an enemy is weaker on one flank than on the other, as they do not have the strength for an all-round defense. In addition, a patrol would also be looking for positions that are large, well camouflaged and heavily defended.

Reports kept arriving from the returning patrols regarding Charlie’s strength of numbers, and as they varied greatly few had confidence in them. We viewed the reports with our usual skepticism, for some stated there were many gook grunts and machine-gun positions, whilst others said there were few grunts and no machine-gun positions, one report even claimed there were no gooks anywhere as no movement had be seen. Due to those contradictory reports, the action was proponed until definite intelligence on Charlie became available, some that we could rely upon during the proposed attack.

It was stifling hot, making sweat run down faces from under helmets and drip off eyelashes and chins. Dumping our grossly overloaded rucks we settled down only to be bitten by green ants that sometimes did what looked like an erratic little dance before suddenly clamping their mandibles into our flesh, and the pain from which was like a cigarette burn. We wiled the time away waiting for orders about the coming confrontation with Charlie, sometimes sleeping, cleaning weapons, and preparing a little hot food and C-rat coffee by burning small balls of C4 plastic explosive.

Within three hours, one of the patrols doing a close recon ended up compromised when they made a tactical error by showing themselves on the skyline, and then in turn punished for that error by the gooks with very accurate rifle fire that left one dead and two wounded. They reported having spotted a large column of armed figures flitting along the tree line, and who opened fire on them before disappearing into some scrub undergrowth. At which point we knew for sure that Chuck was around, but at what strength remained a mystery.

A 60-mil mortar crew started banging off spaced rounds into the tree line in an attempt to draw gunfire from the gooks and in turn mark their positions. The mortar crew was laughing each time they dropped a round into the tube. The mortar bomb pot shots achieved what was expected, and a few out of range rifle shots came back in retaliation from the gooks, the muzzle flashes marking the riflemen’s positions.

Then, one of the mortar crew had the right side of his face torn away by a Snipers high-powered round, and he sprayed blood from a severed artery all over his buddies and onto the hot mortar tube, where is sparked and hissed, and created a stink like an overcooked steak. That poor sap with half of his face missing was probably dead before his mind even registered the hit, and those dumb motherfuckers now soaked with his blood sure as hell were not laughing after finding that it did not pay to take the piss out of Charlie.

Our recently appointed company commander was a thin, red-faced asshole with cropped ginger hair, and although his head looked like a goddamned Halloween pumpkin, much to my surprise the Viet Marines actually trusted him. Nevertheless, I did not, and most certainly not when he stated that he alone commanded, and no one else, just him.

Fuck that, everyone wanted minimum casualties but there was no way to achieve it with that dude commanding, for he was the type not to delegate, and instead would send grunts charging in with him bringing up the rear, his orders ringing out in a high-pitched girly voice from a mouth that looked like a half-eaten pie.

Yep, I have to admit I actually hated that fucker with a passion. However, in fairness, just now and again he did have an occasional flash of intuition that could help us greatly. Because of one of those flashes, he called in a bombing strike, that smasher of humanity, to turn as many of the gooks as possible into lumps of flesh before we initiated his attack plan.

That plan was to hit the gook positions hard, fast, and mercilessly, which was how we had trained to fight, and once through the front line of defense penetrate in depth with alacrity before the gooks could block the attack with any mobile reserves. The flanking squads would attack simultaneously, and with the maximum effort. It sounded so wonderfully simple, but at the same time could turn out to be dangerous as fuck.

It did not take a while before we heard the sinister drone of prop-driven aircraft as they approached with their usual deliberation, and the bombs began to thunder down on the gooks positions. It was reassuring to know tremendous explosions that shook the ground together with an unimaginable volume of sound that almost burst eardrums were softening them up.

We watched as enormous uprooted trees went sailing through the air, and at huge fountains of debris illuminated by harsh sunlight streaming through massive holes now torn in the tree canopy. White-hot shrapnel, some pieces as large as dinner plates hummed and whined, slicing down anything in their flight path. 

Suddenly our chests tightened with fear when a group realization came that the aircraft were starting to stray off target. 500-pound bombs were creeping ever closer, for those flying fuckwits sent to blast Charlie were becoming inaccurate, and were about to dump part of their loads right where we were.

Bush-beasts, some renowned for their toughness when under fire did not hesitate to unmask that fear in the crush of bodies as we threw ourselves together into a dry creek bed. People were clinging to every bit of shelter they could find, trying to hide from the coming pulsing blast waves that could snap bones like twigs, and make someone’s body feel as if it was about to be crushed to pulp in the very jaws of Satan.

Then down came bombs, and with every detonation it felt as if the whole world was collapsing in on us. Some dudes were caught in the open, a primal instinct telling them to run for it, to scatter, and they did to become desperate scurrying figures that were stumbling, ducking, falling in a maelstrom of violent explosions, but like flies caught in a spider’s web there was no escape. Our guys, now prisoners of destiny, were about to be blasted without ceremony into unknown formless pulp, by the red, white, and blue, what an asshole of an epitaph.

A part of the jungle became a blazing inferno, having been set that way by the high explosives and added to the nightmarish scene. I could hear the angry shouting of our radio guy on the Prick 90 as he continued to scream at some asshole at the other end of the net to halt the strike. He was demanding the guy call off the Valkyries, for our radio guy knew that the “fast movers” would be coming in next to lay a “Nap” carpet over the bomb damage, and that would turn not only the gooks positions, but also ours into a smoking tomb. Nevertheless, the dude was constantly demanding that our radio guy reaffirm our co-ordinates, the dumb dip-shit simply couldn’t take it in that someone had goddamned miscalculated theirs and were slaughtering friendlies.

For what were just minutes but felt more like goddamn hours we suffered before the bombs stopped falling and the aircraft were gone. There was a momentary silence as all waited to see if the “fast movers” arrived with their napalm canisters, and when they did not appear there was furtive movements among the chaos as those surviving finally abandoned their places of safety. Accompanying their appearance came the tormented screams and wailing of wounded, as they started to come out of shock and terror.

An unexpected thump of a pistol round was heard as a Viet Marine, having been hit by large bomb splinters and had just about everything below the waist missing, had put the weapon in his mouth and blown the top of his head off. With his intestines spilled in front of him like pinkish-gray sausages on a serving platter then why not, for knowing he was now fucked there was no point waiting in excruciating pain for a corpsman to tell him what he already knew.

Lazy mushrooming clouds of smoke and dust rose up looking like the aftermath of a nuclear war. Everywhere flayed corpses, young men from all parts of the United States and South Vietnam, torn apart and looking like heaps of rags. Limbs with white jagged bones protruding and large chunks of bodies lay amid shredded and splintered timber. Enormous bomb craters that would not have been out of place in a moonscape pockmarked the ground.

The living looked around whilst massaging dust-filled eyes, and suddenly looked years older as fear finally released its stranglehold on them. They stood motionless, almost rigid with strained muscles that occasionally twitched in spasm, which made them incapable of firing a shot. They also had nagging pains in every joint, ached all over, but the dead did not move for they no longer cared about anything.

At the end of any type of action, there is always a prime need to rush towards military normality, and it returns surprisingly quickly. Any wounded are swiftly attended by the corpsmen, the dead removed, and the living, who at times are reeling with exhaustion, start to joke and laugh as they clean and reload weapons in preparation for the next action so that the killing can go on, it is a natural outcome.

The downdraft from the first dust-off Slick brushed aside the curtain of red marker smoke of a hastily prepared e-vac “L.Z” and removed the first load of wounded. Obviously, there were no hospital gurneys or pole stretchers in that form of fighting area, so the grunts had to carry their brother grunts in ponchos, both wounded and dead to an “L.Z”, either passive or hot.

However, for many among the wounded their bursting pride of the Corps, and of the flag, had sometime before reached the climax of emotion, reached its fullness. But after that ferocious blue-bombing it could never be the same again, it had been for them that one clusterfuck too many. They all wanted the truth about such a gross error, but knew that in such a convoluted war there would be little truth for them to have, just as there would be no room for honor, other than their own version of it, the "code of the grunt".

Submitted: July 07, 2016

© Copyright 2021 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.


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