Fragged

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
Story about a gung-ho sergeant in Vietnam, who crossed the line once too often.

Submitted: December 28, 2014

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Submitted: December 28, 2014

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Fragged.

Sergeant Mills strutted back and forth in front of his squad while the Vietnamese sun glared down on the tiny miserable group of men clad in dirty, camouflage fatigues. The group of grunts hated their sergeant. They had just returned from an all-night patrol trying to locate a V.C. unit that had been reported by one of the girls living in the tiny village two clicks to the north of the camp. The patrol had been a total waste of time, but they had lost a man anyway. Mark Kowalski, the 19-year-old recruit who had arrived three days before, had stepped on a mine, and had died after being carried on an improvised stretcher of a couple of branches and a rubber cape  through the jungle for almost an hour, all the time pleading to be taken back to base.
“We can’t do it,” sergeant Mills had simply said. “We’ve got to find those Gooks.  Goin’ back ain’t an option. It’ll take three hours t to go back. It’ll be too late to return here.  By then the Gooks will be a hundred miles up the Ho Chi Minh Trail. No can do.” At one point, Mills had even taken off Kowalski’s bandana and tied it around his head, gagging him because he made too much noise.
“Be  quiet, take it like a man, you sissy,” he had whispered. “You’re going to attract every Charlie within a mile.” Kowalski’s eyes had widened as he had fought to draw breath through the grimy cloth of the bandana.
The squad had taken turns carrying Kowalski’s body back to base, while Mills had maintained a murderous pace, being the man who’d never do anything the easy way if there was a hard way of doing it.

At the end of the line of soldiers, Kowalski dug his heels into the baked mud that now resembled concrete and turned around on them, his piercing stare surveyed the group of exhausted, sweating men who were standing to attention. The sergeant slowly walked to the center of the line before he started to speak again. His voice was extremely soft for a man as tough as he was.  No soldier was beguiled by it, they all knew what was coming. They had seen it a dozen times before.
“You girls have let me down a bit. Last night was supposed to be an easy walk in the woods, just rounding up some Gooks.” He paused and looked every soldier in the eyes. “Instead, you turned it into a fuckin’mess. That stupid Polak didn’t mind where he was going, and you saw what happened to him. If the fucker hadn’t died he should have been court martialed for his stupidity. Always look where you put your feet. You girls may think he’s some sort of hero, getting it like that, but you’re wrong;  he’s just another grunt who wasted the money Uncle Sam invested in him.  Do like he did, and do it often enough, and Charlie won’t have to throw us out of here. We’ll just have to leave because Uncle Sam goes bankrupt. Never forget, our government invested a lot of money in you. You don’t have the right to throw that away, just because you don’t feel like paying attention.  You're government property, just like your M-16’s  and the tents you sleep in. You’re here to kill V.C., not to get killed yourself. Don’t kid yourself, I don’t care about you, I don’t even care about your mommy’s, I care about getting the job done. “ He paused again. “Hell, I don’t even care about myself. Just to make sure you know what you’re here for, you’re going to dig foxholes behind the wire; I want twenty holes by nightfall. Division thinks we’re gonna be to hit soon, so you sissies better take care of our defense.” He strolled over to the end of the line of men. “Marks and Wright, you make sure that stupid Kowalski’s body bag leaves with the 10 o’clock chopper.” Without saluting,  Mills turned around and went to the mess tent to enjoy his breakfast.
The entire day, the men dug holes, sweating like pigs under the tropical sun. Sergeant Mills checked on them every hour, swearing at the slow rate of their progress. Just after six, the sun sank below the horizon, and ten minutes later the last foxhole was finished by Sandy Baxter, the high school graduate from Houston who had volunteered for a tour in Nam. He threw the shovel on the ground, climbed out of the deep hole ad looked at the palms of his hands spat into them and started swearing: “Fuck, this fuckin’ job ripped the skin from my hands, I bet the sarge hasn’t dug a hole in years himself.”
Baxter’s buddy Frank  Olivetti, a twenty –year- old car salesman from The Bronx  snorted before he said: “That fucker doesn’t do anything  himself if he has some slaves to do it for him. We may come from the land of the free, but man, I’m willing to return to it any day, and without that fucker being around.”
Then a shadow some twenty yards away  started to move. It was sergeant Mills. He stopped in front of the two soldiers. “Pick up those shovels ladies,”  he said with that menacing soft tone of  voice. “Go up to that corner over there, there’s another hole that needs to be dug and be snappy about it. Charlie is probably looking at you right now.  He grinned and just stood there while the two young soldiers dragged their tired bodies to the spot he had indicated. He waited,  watching the two men break their backs for another ten minutes before he left for his tent.

Just before midnight, sergeant Mills returned from the mess tent. He felt tipsy. That last Bourbon was the one he shouldn’t have touched, the world seemed a bit out of focus. He slowly began to chuckle, who was he kiddin’, this fuckin’ country had never been in any kind of focus, out of focus fitted perfectly.  As he approached his tent, sergeant Mills felt almost content with the situation he was in. He felt great about the way he dealt with his platoon. The fuckers needed someone like him, someone strict, but fair. One day, they would realize he had been the best thing that had happened to them.
The sergeant reached his tent. It took over a minute to open the zipper of the tent, he almosr rolled into it. It took him another three minutes to take off his boots and shirt. He was almost ready to let his weary body fall back on his improvised bed when the tent flap was slightly opened and something thudded on the rubber ground sheet. Sergeant Mills looked incredulously at the steel pineapple that rolled between his now naked feet.
“What the fuck?,” he thought in those final seconds.

 

 


© Copyright 2018 Bert Broomberg. All rights reserved.

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