Half-dead Gook

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A short story about the Vietnam War (1955-75) from the point-of-view of an American GI serving in Vietnam. Cuss words are retained for authenticity but I've censored them. Some influences: Tim O'Brien and Joseph Conrad. Some era-specific vocabulary explained: gook-derogatory term for Vietnamese enemy soldiers in Vietnam, VC-Viet Cong, rebels in South Vietnam fighting against America, LZ-Landing Zone, CH-47-Chinook, transport helicopter used in Vietnam. Whew~! Hope you enjoy/take something out of this!

“Hey lemme ask you something Ronnie, you ever see a half-dead gook?”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“Well I ain’t ever see me a half-dead gook, you gotta kill ‘em in one go.”
That was Todd. ‘Varsity footballer turned hero’ is what the paper read the day he quit high school to join the army. Todd and I were classmates at Savannah Central High School. We’d fight each other, cuss at each other, heck, we were the best worst buddies ever. The same day he left Mrs. Murphy’s class to join the army, I did too. Only difference was they ain’t ever run no story about me. The caption under the photo of Todd and me in the paper read, “Evans and good friend arrive at Savannah airport to leave for Vietnam.” I had a good laugh at that. We weren’t good friends.
“Hey Cochrane.” I hated Todd's drawl.
“Get your ass up here, you’re supposed to take point. God if it were me, we’d be there already.”
“Oh yeah, well if you’re such a cocky sunnavab----, why don’t you take point huh?”
“Cause I’m the me.” God did I hate that stupid voice of his.
I spent the rest of the day listening to Todd hurl insults at my back and the doc going on about keeping well-hydrated. We arrived at the checkpoint at around 0700 hours. The sun had just risen and the sky turned a hue of deep crimson.
“Where’s the goddamn chopper!” Todd was always complaining.
“Up yours.”
Todd ignored me. He walked straight up to me and tore the map from my hands.
“You stupid sunnavab----! We’re 2 miles off the LZ, what the hell kinda scout are you!”
“The best you got, now—”
Before I finished my sentence, he tackled me to the ground and nearly choked me to death before doc and Ronnie pulled him off. The rest of the day went without incident and we arrived at the LZ 10 minutes early. We were lifted off and sent back to basecamp were we caught a couple of hours of shut-eye before a dispatch came in.
Short, sweet, and to the point. The dispatch came from Camp Holloway. By 1700 hours, our company was to engage the Viet Cong at Pleiku and defend the camp, which was a strategic link in the supply chain. The men geared up and left for the airfield. All of a sudden, the grass flattened and men stooped. A hulking CH-47 appeared out of nowhere and swallowed us up. Seconds later, we were in the air.
“So what the hell is going on anyways?” I was curious.
“Hey, I just do the flying, I don’t know s---!” the pilot yelled over the incessant drone of the rotors.
I decided to shut up. Minutes later, the pilot turned around.
“Hey, sit tight, we’re going through some rough airspace!”
I soon saw what he meant. As we passed over rice paddies, dark shapes emerged from the water and blinked at us. The massive transport helicopter wobbled as a volley of bullets slammed into its side. It swung around and a flower bloomed from its right side as the side-gunner opened up. The 7.62mm shook the whole craft and the dark shapes began to disappear quickly.
“Yeah, get some!” The side-gunner depressed the trigger and literally blew the gooks out of the water.
“Imma take a little detour, hope y’all don’t mind!” yelled the pilot.
We swung almost 90 degrees to the right and approached a village. The down-draft from the rotor blades blew the straw off the roofs and pretty soon, it was starting to look like Christmas. Women and children scurried like rats. They disappeared in poofs of red. Poof, poof, poof….poof. Poof. It was disgusting. I laughed.
We arrived at the landing zone 10 minutes late. The radio in the helicopter crackled to life.
“What the fu—! Where the hell w— you!!? The LZ is hot, I rep—, the LZ is hot!” An irritated and panicked voice came over the intercom.
“You hear boys, the LZ is hot!” repeated the pilot.
It was indeed hot. As we passed over trees and emerged over a clearing, sparks flew off the side of the helicopter and it pitched sideways.
“Alright, on my ‘go’, get out! I can give you guys seven seconds! Johnson, do it!” yelled the pilot.
How he managed to pull seven, of all numbers, out of his head, I would never know. The side-gunner swung his massive machine gun around and let it loose. Pock-marks exploded across the ground and men fell here and there.
“Go! Go! Go!” yelled the pilot.
He didn’t have to tell me again. I fell out the door and landed with my face to the ground. Someone stepped on me. It was Todd. Before I could whoop his ass, the rest of the company fell out and he disappeared in a mass of green. I followed the group and scrambled into cover. The chopper engine whined as it pulled up. A volley of shots hit the nose and the massive machine slewed to the left. With one last effort, the engines managed to pull the chopper free from the grasp of gravity and as quickly as it had arrived, it was gone.
An eerie silence filled the clearing, punctuated by distant gun shots and screams. I was about to stand up when the gooks made the first move. A man jumped out from the brush and started firing wildly. Ronnie blew his face off. Todd took point and the company advanced slowly into the forest, pausing to flush out a VC mounted gun emplacement here and there. When we reached Camp Holloway, the place was a mess. VC and Marines ran to and fro, occasionally stopping and firing wildly into the smoke. Civilians screamed in the distance and loud explosions provided the accompaniment to this symphony of death. A nearby explosion caused me to cringe. I looked to my left.
“S---! Doc! Doc! Ronnie’s f---ing dead! You gotta save him, he’s f---ing dead!” I screamed.
Ronnie’s head was twisted 180 degrees and a porcelain tile had lodged itself deep within his chest cavity. I looked around wildly but all I could see was smoke. A little girl appeared out of nowhere. Her eyes were filled with a primal fear. It scared me.
“H-hey little girl, d-d-don’t look at me like that okay?” It hurt to look at her.
Her stare pierced through my heart and as if a lock was suddenly unlocked and a floodgate opened, a deluge of fear coursed through my veins. I pulled out my pistol.
“F---! Stop it! Stop it!”
She kept on staring at me.
Everything I ever tried to hide from myself. The time I stole my father’s gun; the time I put thumb-tacks on Mrs. Murphy’s chair; the time I asked Kelly out; the time I shot my first gook. It all came back to me. I was scared. The little girl saw it all. All of it.
“Hey look, don’t tell anyone what you saw okay?”
She didn’t say anything.
“Hey will you f---ing listen you stupid f---!?”
She backed up. She was trying to run away! If she got to the other’s she’d tell them, reveal everything. Even the things I vowed to hid from myself. The trigger gave. Her lifeless body feel to the ground. The sickening thump alerted me for the first time to the blood running down my boot. I looked down and saw the ground through my torso. I was missing the left half.
“Well f--- me.” I laughed.
But the girl wasn’t laughing, she was dead you see. Her cold dead eyes stared back at me.
“What the f--- are you looking at?!”
I emptied my clip into her face and was about to load another one when I was tackled from behind.
“What the f--- are you doing!?” It was Todd. “F---! You stupid s---! Jones! Call for backup! We need a med evac ASAP!”
But it was unnecessary for Jones to call for a med evac. Seconds after he picked up his radio communications phone, the smoke parted and the massive H-47 was back. But this one was different. This one had a red cross on it. It looked like one of the crosses I saw a lot back in Savannah High. It was usually followed by a big, fat, red zero. I laughed; it was as if the chopper was telling me I failed.
“What the f--- do you know!?”
“What did you say?” yelled Todd over the noise of the rotors.
The helicopter lifted up and soon, we were out of Pleiku and over the forest. Todd was sitting next to me, his eyes fixated on my wound. I laughed.
“Hey Todd.” I said.
“Have you ever seen a half-dead gook?”
He turned away from me and looked out the side of the chopper, into the dense forest below. I laughed.
“Well I ain’t ever seen one…I killed her in one go…sure as sure.”


Submitted: May 28, 2010

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