This story is a work of fiction, written to entertain the reader.
Any similarities to historical persons or events are coincidental.
FLAT BED TRUCK
Awhile back on the third day of a thirty day operation, the grunt who carried the squad radio, got a hernia and a chopper picked him up at dusk. I suspect it was the added weight of the
I was with my team digging in for the night. Corporal Warner, my squad leade; came to our position. He told me that I was the new squad radio man. He took my rifle and handed me a forty five caliber, automatic pistol. My instructions were, stay close to him, and keep my mouth shut. It seemed easy enough, so I didn’t bitch.
In the beginning he dragged me around by the spring cord, and did all the talking, on the radio. Now, he lets me do the talking. I like being the radio man, and according to the platoon commander, I’m pretty good at it.
We flew From An-hoa to Phu Bai on, a big c-one-thirty a week ago. The plane so heavily loaded down with men and equipment, it nearly hit the trees at the end of the runway.
Phu-Bai has a great mess hall, and a Post Exchange, filled with radios, cameras, bags of candy, cartons of smokes, and a snack bar that sells hamburgers and fries. Because of the condition of our uniforms, we are having a hard time moving about the base freely. My boots are over one hundred days old, and have never seen polish. I wear them every day, and believe that polish will spoil their ability to breathe. Salty grunts will look at your boots, as a way to tell, who they can trust.
I try to be a salty Marine but I can’t quite pull it off. In truth, I’m glad I don’t have to order anyone around. I wear the boots and I hump the hills, but I’m still pretty much a new guy.
I got some polish for my boots, and begged supply for new utilities, and I am ready to move about the base freely.
The Doc, Lewis, Griego, Taint and I went to the post exchange for the first couple of days. Now I am broke, so I hang out around the CP, eating ravioli, from cans, drinking coke. and taking showers. Every night they show movies.
Last night I had to miss the movie. I pulled guard, duty on the lines, with some wingers, ( Marine Corps air wing) they smelled and looked high.
This is our first break in a long time, a chance to sing songs, drink our two beers, and wait for the other boot to fall.
A rumor is going around that the hostilities are going to end, and that we might be going home soon. I don’t believe we will be going home anytime soon, but I know that something is going on.
It’s the sixth morning after our arrival in Phu-by, and we are standing in a loose formation, waiting for the Company Commander.
The clock is ticking at the mess hall. It’s bad enough we have to wait while clerks and wingers eat first, or that they lock the milk machines when we come in the door, and the cooks change over from fresh to powdered eggs.
It all bothers our sensibilities, but not out appetites. We wolf down fresh bread, powdered eggs and spam for breakfast, spam and powered potatoes, for lunch and, chipped beef on noodles for dinner, and we drank gallons of Ice cold cool-aid.
On this sixth morning, just when we are getting nice and spoiled, the whole company is out in front of the tents, with nothing on our minds but breakfast. The Company Commander, comes out of his tent, and we all jump to attention.
He doesn’t look much a Marine officer, to me, but looks are deceiving. He is slight of build and wears glasses with thick black rims. The CO joined the company a month ago. I don’t know him well, but I know him better than the last one. The Captain he replaced never went out in the bush with us. We hardly ever saw him at all. This guy is always in the bush. He seems OK to me. Tant likes him, and Tant hates all officers,
The Officers talk for awhile and orders come down for us to saddle up, with all our gear and fall out on the on the supplies that are stacked on the beds of, half a dozen squat, wheeled vehicles, powered by a single stroke engine, you start with a pull rope, that we call mules.
There are boxes of M-sixteen rounds, hand grenades, bags of Seventy nine rounds, belts of machine gun ammo, Laws, claymores, C-four explosives, blasting caps, forty-five rounds, extra magazines, bandages, malaria tablets, water purification tabs, radio batteries, smoke grenades, flairs, flash light batteries and two boxes of C-rations per man.
We hang grenades from our canteen belts, fill our packs with C four and stuff ordinance onto our pockets. The gunners and grunts wrap hundred round belts of thirty caliber machine gun ammunition, around their shoulders. When we move back into ranks nothing remains on the mules.
After loading up on ammunition, we are marched to the front gate, only a hundred feet from the mess hall entrance. There is a water buffalo here. Not the kind that stands around in rice paddies, but a big green tank, with a spicket, that is full or iodine treated water. I walk over to fill my canteens. Lewis is in the line, He is tall for a grunt, most of us are under six feet, he is six foot four. He joined the company in December and though he is still a new guy, he’s catching on quick. He doesn’t say much, but I can tell he is paying attention. Lewis carries his load without complaint and everyone likes him. Before I carried the radio, we were in the same fire team. Now Private first class Greco, a Mexican American from Arizona, who was born with a smile on his face, buddies up with Lewis. When you see Griego you know that Lewis is near by.
They ask if I have heard anything on the radio.
I tell them my radio is off I don’t have the frequencies yet.
We fill our canteen and go back and sit on our gear, and watch as, poges file into the mess hall. I can smell the bacon frying, and almost taste the bread backing in the ovens.
The last of the poges is leaving the mess hall and it’s clear, we are not going to get breakfast.
I can see that the gate is closed. Generally trucks of all kinds are coming and going through the gate, today there is no traffic.
We are Marine’s, we are used to waiting, and we are still in the road, with our gear, when the first of the Poges start heading into the mess hall for lunch.
We’re complaining about eating C-rations, just fifty feet from the mess hall when, trucks pull up.
Corporal Warner comes back from a meeting, with the platoon Commander and, hands me the radio frequencies. and we all load up on the trucks.
Warner and I get on the first truck and, hold onto the bar behind the driver and his sidekick.
I like being on the trucks and, we are soon barreling down the road in the direction of Hue City.
We enter the city on a wide and tree lined street, with multi storied buildings, as one might see in a Bogart movie. There are stores, restaurants and a theater, all very cool. For awhile we think we have it made,
I’m wondering if it is the trucks, full of armed Marines, that has driven the inhabitants of Hue, from the streets. I change my mind, when the bodies start showing up, crumpled in the gutter or in a doorway. We won’t be eating in the restaurants today.
We are fifty, fully armed Marines, on four six-by trucks, with the rest of the company behind us. How bad can it be.
I have never met the driver but I am impressed with the casual way the young Marine slips the gearshift from gear to gear, slowing down and speeding up but never touching the break.
When we discover the bodies, the trucks, slow down.
Several young Vietnamese men come running out from hiding, with their hands in the air. One of them is speaking English. He is telling us they are ARVINS and that they were on leave in Hue, when all hell broke lose. He says that the NVA hold the entire city and are killing everyone.
By now I can tell from monitoring the radio and from the sound of gunfire to our rear. that the enemy is all around us.
I can hear the first of the incoming, sniper fire. I think we should get off the trucks, but the Platoon commander has orders to make it to the compound, and the trucks keep moving.
The English speaking Vietnamese is on the last truck hanging on to the passenger door and he’s talking to the Lieutenant. I wish I knew what he is saying.
Junk of all kinds, as well as bodies of civilians, even children, litter the road ahead. After only a few hundred yards, the street is completely blocked and, we stop.
The truck I am on takes a rocket hit in the front tire. The explosion has set our ears ringing but no one is hit. Orders come over the radio for everyone to get off the trucks and set in on both sides of the street. There is a drainage ditch and some open land, on one side. of the street, on the other, buildings.
I tell Warner that the Lieutenant wants to see him, And with me on his heels, we head to the command position, near the last truck.
I wait for Warner, with some other grunts, behind a curb. PFC Field is here; he is the best shot in the platoon. There are snipers shooting at us and I’m getting nervous. Field is calmly telling the three of us about, his rifle in boot camp and, how much he misses it.
We all laugh, in spite of the situation, everyone is in a good mood.
When we get back to the squad, Warner takes out his map and pointing to the river, he tells the team leaders that, we are heading out on a patrol to snoop and poop the bridge, than on to the compound.
He tells us to watch out for civilians and, not kill any.
With Taint’s team on point and Night in the lead, we move out, spread fifty feet apart, with a man on each side of the street. I look back and notice someone raise up from the marsh along the river and, run naked to the trucks. He is covered in mud. Word on the radio is that he is a general or something.
My attention is drawn to a new guy in front of me. He keeps moving too close to Tant. I can see him bobbing around in the middle of the road.
The enemy sees him too, and concentrates there fire, on the exposed new guy, in the road. Incoming explodes from the other side of the park, I look over at the new guy. he is hit laying face down in the middle of the road, We all get under what cover we can find, and fire in all directions. We are taking incoming from all directions. I notice Doc is moving up on the new guy, and I holler for him to get out of the road. He nearly reaches the new guy and he is hit in the chest and goes down too.
Because I carry a radio I spend a lot of time around the CP. Doc is with the CP, and over time we have become good friends. We talk about the places we want to go, how I want to see the
world, and how he will be a doctor one day. I want to go to him, and get him out of the road. Warner tells me.
You got a job to do right here Marine, stay on that radio. Doc is dead.
Taint tries to reach Doc but can’t and, he ducks into a doorway. The incoming rounds make it imposable for him to stay in the road.
Somehow the squad ends up all bunched up in front of a building.
The radio is awash with activity. The language not regulation and a voice from command tells us so.
The NVA I can see are out of range, for anything but a lucky shot. They are moving about without fear. Those shooting at us are hidden behind the walls and in the windows of the beautiful buildings, that line both sides the avenue, forward of our position
I know my job. My ear is glued to the handset, and I am glued to Warner.
I can hear the Lieutenant trying to call in artillery, but he can’t get the OK for a fire mission on the city.
Chelowa’s machine gun is jammed, and he is trying to find a place out of the hale of fire, where he can clear the hot round from the cold chamber.
A rocket hits close by, the blast drives the air from my, lungs.
Right beside me Private Jenkins is hit in the lower arm. I reach into his pack and take out his bandage and I tie it around his arm. I notice my hands are shaking. Doc could do a better job of this, but, he is dead in the road. Things are going to be a lot worse without Doc here, looking after us, risking his life, to save wounded Marines.
When I look up the enemy is closer and I take up Jenkins M sixteen and start firing down the road. My hands are steady now and I’m lined up on targets, but I don’t see any fall. Most of the NVA I can see are far down the road, I might be aiming at them.
We are stuck out in the open, huddled in front of the first building after the open field. Because of our fear of booby traps in the bush, we are reluctant to break down doors or bust through gates. I cringe when Lewis puts all his weight against a heavy wooden door, and on the second try it bursts open.
Lance corporal Night runs inside, ready to fire but he backs out.
Christ! I almost shot them. There are a bunch of kids in there. We got to get them out of here.
There’s nothing we can do for them. They are better off where they are. If we take them out of there, the gooks will only use them for cover.
Scocola smashes out the glass in, the next door down, with the but of his rifle. He reaches in and, works the lock, kicks the door open and, rushes in. The room is empty. The big windows make it a poor hiding place for kids, but good to fight from. The whole squad crowds into the one room.
I can see it is a clothing store, with racks of European dresses, as well as oriental silks. I want to grab some of the silks for my mother and sister. There is no time I am busy on the radio.
Orders came in from the Lieutenant, for us to hold our position.
Secure the whole building. Don’t get too comfortable, be ready to move.
What about Doc and the new guy? Jones is covering the door and wants to go into the road and get them. Warner forbids him to go out there.
The upstairs of the clothing store is an office, much like any you might see anywhere. I am shocked at the worldliness of it all, after months in the bush, where grass huts and tin hooch’s are the only buildings we ever see. It is disconcerting to see that such things exist in Vietnam. It makes the war more real.
From three floors up we can see over the smaller buildings.
I listen to the Lieutenant as he shouts into the hand set. The sound of battle in the street below is coming through to me. I turn to Warner. He is calm and confident and I trust him. What the fuck do you want me to say? I scream. Warner turns back to the enemy.
Tell him what’s up.
I just blurt out what I see as our situation,
We are half a click south of check point zebra.
We got gooks on all sides of us. They got rockets and heavy machine guns, most of them are around the bridge, over
How’s you’re defense, over
It’s brick. over
We are moving up to your position. Over and out.
I listen as the word is passed for the rest of the platoon to move out, under enemy fire, to our position.
The lieutenant is coming in.
I trust McNeal too. He is tall and powerful, with his handlebar mustachio, he looks every bit what I think an officer should look like. It may sound outrageous, but surrounded and out numbered ten to one, I feel like the chase is over and here they are. We are going to get them back for all the snipers and booby traps that had killed and wounded, so many of us in the bush; without us ever seeing the enemy.
I have overcome my fear and I am filled with valor. I am sure we can win this, war; free the people, and go home heroes.
The world, that far off place, with cars and girls and school dances is still clear in my mind. I am still part of it. I wonder if that will last through the day.
I believe in the invincibility of America and the Marine Corps. I can see by the looks of determination on the faces of those Marines around me, that they feel the same.
The Corporal just called down to the other men, to keep an eye out for McNeal, he is coming in. The rooms are neat with European furnishings, and Smith tries the sink. No water.
Christonson; who is always out of water, asks me.
You got any water?
I hand him my half full canteen. He takes a long swig and hands it back nearly empty. I offer it to Warner and he gives me a doleful look.
I got another. I know what it’s like to be thirsty.
Heavy firing is telling me that the Lieutenant is moving out of cover, and that he is not having much luck working his way up to our position.
The Lieutenants voice comes over the radio, and at the same time a rocket hits the second floor of the building we are in. The old red bricks crumble, leaving a big hole in the outer wall.
Another rocket hits in the street below and shatters the windows.
The blast has my ears ringing and it sounds like every radio man in the company is talking at once. I look out and see the gooks moving in on us. Chelowa, still reeling from the blast, is leaning over his sights and chewing up belts of ammo. For the first time I can remember, Warner does not tell him to take it easy and conserve ammo.
By now the rest of the squad is firing at the enemy, who are moving in fast and determined. I draw my forty five from it’s holster and check the chamber. It holds a round, I have seven more in the magazine and, five more magazines on my belt. I wish I had not giver Jenkins his rifle back and, I start to lose it. I wonder, in all the confusion how Warner remains so calm. Everyone else is shouting and swearing. Warner moves through the building with confidence, directing the Marine’s fire, He is calm, but loud, and when he gives orders, he calls the men by their rank, not their name. We never stay in one place for long and Corporal Warner puts his eyes on the situation, relaying through me, messages to the other squads and the platoon commander.
The enemy is close enough that when Warner and I reach the hole the rocket made in outer wall of the second floor. I fire my forty five at a uniformed enemy, who has reached the door with a satchel charge. I don’t think I hit him but the heavy pistol is loud and the gook retreats to the other side of the street.
I replace the empty magazine in the pistol. I’m right behind Warner, heading down the stairs to the door. The gooks are all around the front of the building
I see Smith fire his Seventy nine, out the window, directly at the enemy, so close that one of the round reaches it’s target before it has turned enough revolutions to explode. It knocks the
gook back ten feet and he collapses in the road. I can see lots of NVA are dead and, wounded but, there are always more. The rest of the platoon is far behind us and, spread out along
the road. They can’t reach us and, I think we are about to be over run!
Rockets are exploding against the walls of the building. It is a miracle that none have come in through the windows or put more holes in the walls.
The NVA are ready to blast their way in. Warner just passed the word, to fix bayonets. The sound of the battle is deafening and I can hardly think. I’m grab for the automatic pistol and I take an extra magazine from my belt. I am waiting for the door to be blown open. Most of the shooting has stopped. the gooks are hidden from us against the side of the building we are in.
In this moment of quiet, I can hear what sounds like a fifty caliber, machine gun. I can feel the projectiles slugging the building and I’m praying that, the fifty is not theirs.
I peek out the window and, down the street, and I can see, a six-by truck, coming full speed. There’s a gunner above the cab. The gunner is firing at the attackers who were about to take our position. Those who haven’t been killed are disappearing into the buildings and the tree line along the river.
The truck reaches the Lieutenant and stops. The gunner is still chugging out rounds. The tracers are carrying on down the road to where an NVA officer has been standing; the whole time and, he moves under cover.
I can see the Lieutenant dart out from a doorway, with his radio man in toe. The truck is coming to us, moving slow and the rest of the platoon is following. When they reach the new guy and the Doc, they load them into the truck. and back up to the CP.
The Lieutenants radio man is calm now and I pass the word to Warner, that we are to go to the CP.
One by one we go out the door and down the street.
I notice the movie theater, I saw on our way in, before we discovered the Nva were all around us.
I’m still pissed, there will be no movie for us tonight,
The fifty starts to run low on ammo, and the gunner fires single rounds. Than a gook jumps out in the street, with a rocket launcher and boom, the truck takes a hit from the rocket right in the engine. The driver is hurt but the guy on the fifty just keeps his thumbs on the trigger. He needs another can of ammo from the back of the truck.
Lewis is climbing up on the burning truck to help with the ammo, but he gets knocked dizzy by another rocket and Graco is out in the road dragging him back to the doorway.
He jest got his ears wrung. Greco calls out, and I’m glad to see Lewis isn’t wounded.
When we move out, our squad is on point again and we are fighting our way down the street. I can see the enemy, on the other side of the river hundreds of them. I wonder if we are the only company of Marines in the city. I wonder why nobody thought to tell us that all these gooks were here.
The radio is too busy to be much use to anyone, and, my ears are wringing from all the concussion. There are dead bodies all along the road in front and behind me, some of them look like Americans, but, I don’t see any Marines, The fifty has driven the enemy back and we are moving to the wall where, they mounted their attack against us.
From our position, behind the wall, I can see the river, and the bridge. Across the bridge, the compound we are trying to reach. I can also see a shit load of uniformed Nva, and VC. They running all over the place. I have a broad view of the city and I can see formations of enemy solders, more than I can count. they are right out in the open, where artillery, from Fu-by could blow the shit out of them.
This is war, who cares about buildings, and than, I think about the kids behind the door Lewis crashed open. Than I think of Doc and the new guy and I wish they would give us just some artillery and a few Jets too.
We are held up and I look over at the Lieutenant. He is looking at the map, surrounded by the squad leaders.
I am firing Jenkins’ M-sixteen again and he is leaning against the wall. his bandage is soaked with blood and he doesn’t look good. Doc and the new guy are here, by the wall too. and the driver who is badly wounded.
The gooks are too far off and un afraid, but we keep firing at them anyway.
I can hear Field talking about his rifle at boot camp. and some of the guys are calling out insults to the enemy.
Save your ammo someone shouts. We all look up from our sights, astonished to behold the Company Gunny. I have never seen him in the bush; he pretty much stays in the rear.
While Warner is at the meeting;
I move down the wall to where my buddy Smith is on one knee, looking over the wall. He is slightly less then medium height and build, with dark hair and a five o’clock shadow, an hour after he shaves. He is only nineteen, my age, and as you know I’m just a kid. Smith has a wife from West Virginia. They belong to some kind of religious cult that maries off their kids at fifteen. Two months after he, got to Vietnam, his wife left home and moved into a trailer, provided by base housing at camp Lajune.
Her few letters are filled with how thrilled she is with her new life, her job at the PX and, the clubs where she and her new friends hang out. Smith told me one dark night in a fox hole, that he had known her all his life that they had played together as kids. At sixteen the Preacher insisted they get married, luckily they have no children. He told me, he loves her more than she loves him. I figure that is quite a bit for a nineteen year old to carry into Hue City. and I wonder what he will carry out.
Smith’s dark eyes are on fire,
I guess we found them, now. after all that running around in the bush; the mother-fuckers, were here in the city. He takes out his canteen, Cool-aid. and offers me some.
No thanks. I tell him; it will only make me thirsty.
I never figured we would be doing this today. I was going to get you to help me write my wife. See if I can’t get her to go home.
While I am trying to think of a reply that doesn’t sound the way I feel. Her letters make so clear, to me, that she is fucking around, and she likes it and there’s no way she is going back to the hills.
As I am about to tell him; I will be glad to help. I catch sight of a black clad VC. He runs out into the road with, a rocket launcher. Everyone sees him at once and we are all shooting at him. The VC is getting hit too, but he doesn’t go down. He manages to pull the trigger and run down an alley. The rocket skids off the road and bounces over our heads. It misses all the buildings and trees and abandon cars and trucks, and explodes with a thud, on second platoon, who are set in behind us. The radio goes crazy with calls for medovacks.
I can hear over the radio that they are setting up an LZ. Orders come over the radio, to take the dead, and wounded there. A detail of grunts head for the LZ with Doc, the driver, Jenkins and the new guy.
Saddle up. Warner orders, and the word is passed.
I am right behind the Corporal and we go into the street. There is plenty of fire from all around us. We just keep moving and nobody gets hit. We nearly get through to the bridge. We are still surrounded, and without the fifty, we are just holding our position. Warner is still calm and in charge. The marines are still calling out taunts and making crude jokes. We are young and brave and not one, falters or fails to perform his duty.
Now we are all bunched up around some blown up trucks and the Lieutenant tells us to spread out along the ditch.
I am down on one knee, seeking cover behind one of the ancient trees that line the street. The platoon is spread out behind me. Word comes over the radio for us to move out again. I just point down the road, to the bridge.
Warner calls out. Saddle up were moving out.
I start to stand and something smashes into the back of my head, knocking me onto my face in the dirt. It feels nothing like being shot, it feels like something big hit me like tacking the full swing from a baseball bat, to the back of my head.
The blow knocks me out for a moment and when I came too, the Marines around me are screaming for a corpsman. They are yanking the radio off my back and I watch as Warner moves off down the road without me. My helmet is gone, and I think I should put it on, and I fumble around looking for it. I put my hand to the back of my head. My palm touches the bare bone of my skull. It hurts like hell and is bleeding, but I feel OK, I don’t think I’m going to die.
I can see a corpsman come running into the road and when I see the him, crouched with his bag over his shoulder, running in the open like that, I get scared.
I look at Jones, and he can see the fear in my eyes.
You got nothing to be worried about, that bullet just bounced off your thick fucking skull. There’s a piece of your ear gone too but that’s an improvement. Just take it easy, let us get this on you.
Does it hurt?
Not too bad. I’m lying to him and he knows it.
You want a drink ?
Yea. I got water in my canteen.
Monett gives me a drink from his, canteen.
I’m laying on my side and Jones thinks I should sit up, to help stop the bleeding. The corpsman has to get down behind a truck.
Monet jokes that we should put a tourniquet around my neck; we all laugh and, Jones hands me a smoke. It tastes so good, and I suck on it hard. I feel dizzy. Monet thinks the bleeding is slowing down, so I stay sitting .
I kind of drift off and when I come to, I’m sitting up and the Corpsman is taking off the bandage, they tied around my head.
What do you mean Fuck?
I got to pull that together and stitch it up.
You are going to stitch him up out here Doc?
The platoon is moving out, down the road, past us. Monet raises his head over the side of the ditch, looking in both directions.
If we remain here long enough, we will be alone.
The Corpsman is older than most of us and he has long dark curly hair and brilliant shining eyes. I don’t know this Corpsman the way I know Doc. I’ve seen him around though, and I trust him. I trust all corpsman.
Is it going to hurt?
Can’t you give him a shot Doc?
Yes it is going to hurt. I don’t want to give you morphine with a head wound. If we don’t close it up, it’s going to tear and get worst. You should stay awake. You hear me Marine, no matter what, you stay awake
He covers my head with iodine and Monet and Jones are helping him. Together they are pulling my scalp into place and with Monet holding the clamps. The Corpsman pulls an already threaded, hooked needle, from his pack and sews me up.
I feel a general weakness that threatens to put me to sleep. I figure this is the onset of shock. I concentrate on trying to stay awake but I can feel myself falling.
Wake up private!
It sounds like my drill instructor, but it is Jones mimicking a drill instructor, something Marines do from the first days of their enlistment.
I am jolted out of my fall.
You got to stay awake!
I smile . Monet smiles back. The look on his face tells me that he will carry my pain forever.
You want a smoke?
You got to get him over to the LZ
The last of the platoon are moving past us, heading for the bridge; intent on taking the city back; facing off with the enemy and winning the war. I am sorry to be leaving them, and I wonder if they resent my going.
Monett and Jones take me under my arms, and get me on my feet. I don’t like standing up, I know now, for certain, I am not invincible. I feel a prickle that starts at the back of my skull, and grows, until I am weak as though with fever, and my legs are numb.
We are moving but I am real dizzy, I start to fall, I want to get down, out of the sound of buzzing projectiles, filling the air around us. We make a good target, the three of us running along together like this.
Get the fuck running Marine. Monett screams in my face and I increase the pace
Fucking run man. Jones hollers, because we can’t leave you hear. I run for all I am worth; looking at my feet, concentrating on keeping my legs moving and not on the sound of the bullets buzzing around us like angry bees.
Breathless, we arrive at the LZ, I see that Doc and the new guy are already here. Jones and Monet put me down beside them. I’m glad. I want to be with Doc. There is no time for things like body bags. Doc and the new guy are laying side by side on there backs, .
Doc’s eyes are closed, he is covered with dirt and shit and blood.
Monet and Jones have to get back to the platoon. I don’t want them to leave me, I hide it.
Thanks you guys. You saved my fucking ass.
I’m watching them trot off fearing for their safety. The incoming increases as soon they head across the open lot.
There is no time for me to see if they make it or not. Five gooks come out of nowhere, they are spread out and firing at us, moving in fast.
I role over to where there is a pile of weapons and grab an M-sixteen and some magazines of ammunition. There is no cover so I crawl over to where Doc and the new guy are laying, and use their bodies for cover.
The rifle looks brand new. I wonder who it belongs to, and how long the Marine who, carried the weapon has been in country and if he is dead or, one of the wounded. The rifle works well. I am firing at the advancing enemy, disregarding the pain to my head. I keep shooting and reloading until the gooks are all dead. They got close, only a few meters from where I lay, behind Doc and the new guy.
We are not under fire now and over the ringing in my ears I can hear a chopper. How good it sounds.
I’m sitting up and holding my head in both hands, it feels flimsy as though it might break open, and spill my brains out on the ground.
A corpsman, I have never seen before, is coming over to me,
How are you feeling Marine, are you in much pain?
I look up at him and nod. His face and hands are covered in blood. He has no fear in his eyes, and I wonder if he can see the fear in mine. I don’t want him to. I want him to see a brave Marine, who just killed, and in spite of the pain, is ready to kill again.
He peeks under the bandage, says nothing and reaches into his bag. He slaps my thy with his left hand and with his right plunges in a shot of morphine, pulls out the needle and throws it on the ground.
Almost at once I can feel the drug taking over, pulling me into a dream world. My mind is racing but my body is numb. I’m afraid the gooks will come back and find me just sitting here. I can still hear the chopper and that makes me feel better.
I have to fight to stay awake, I don’t want anyone to think I am dead and leave me here for the next chopper. I’m sick now, I have the dry heaves and it hurts my head and I can feel hot blood trickle down my back. I need to calm down, stay awake and keep shock at bay. I get a smoke out of my pocket, and listen to the chopper, and think, I will soon be in a clean hospital bed. I can’t find any matches. I know doc has matches in his utility jacket pocket. He is the only guy in the platoon that doesn’t smoke, but everyone needs matches and Doc keeps his in his utility jacket pocket. I want to look in his pocket but I‘m too weak. I’m sitting here holding my head listening to the chopper and looking at Doc.
Something catches my eye and I look up over the river to see a thin band of white smoke advance from the riverbank, to the chopper. The chopper spins into the river with a big splash turns over on it’s side and sinks. One man swims ashore.
The corpsman is going down to him. the wounded man looks old, I feel sorry for him, having to be here, flying in to save us young grunts. In my drug induced dreams, I see his wife and children. My mind gives them faces and words and I began to cry for him and his pretty children, and for Doc’s mother, and for his lost dream, to be a real doctor. I feel like shit and I lay down next to Doc.
The pilot is burned pretty bad and, wounded in the neck. The corpsman and another guy are helping him over to where we are. The old man does not look good. He is going into shock, the big killer, I will myself to stay calm and awake,
You have to stay awake.
Beside me is a Marine with both arms bandaged to his chest. One of the bandaged arms is considerably shorter than the other.
He is talking gibberish, as fast as his mouth can move.
I am very fucked up from this morphine and need something to do, to keep me from falling off the edge of the world.
I need to think up ways to get myself and Doc out of this mess.
I look over at the gibbering Marine.
How are you doing Man? Hay Marine! What are you trying to say? I’ll listen.
He just keeps talking gibberish. And I’m silent, trying to pay attention to what is going on around me.
When the chopper went down, Marines came out of the streets and set up a parameter around us. Both the grunts who were guarding the wounded are now wounded themselves. We are all in the
open the grunts are digging holes, but I know there won’t be another chopper coming to this LZ
I can hear the grunts discussing, how to get us out of here. They have not been able to make it happen with their radio. The Lieutenant, his platoon sergeant, and Squad leaders, decide it will require an officer to get any truck drivers to come out here.
The Lieutenant and two of his men, head out. Under light sniper fire they run across the open land, and disappear into the buildings, to find a truck.
It seems like forever until they return but I feel good, I‘m not in much pain. I don’t think I’m bleeding much.
I come out of a dream to see them coming back, and I am filled with hope. They have two trucks and they drive them right across the open field, to where we are.
I try to get up but can‘t, I can’t move. Two marines take me by the arms and legs and toss me onto a flat bed truck, with Doc and the new guy.
When they get everyone loaded up on the trucks, we move out to the main road. Some of the wounded on the other truck are screaming some come cheering, glad to get out of here. I’m keeping my mouth shut, there is no use in screaming. Without the morphine in me, I could pay better attention to what is going on. I want to be in the six-by that provides more cover, and not on this flat bed truck. I say as much to the Marine, on my right. He is staring at me, saying nothing. he might be dead, I can‘t tell.
When we reach the road The enemy firing is intense, the drivers pull the trucks into an alley. I turn my head and I see Doc’s face, his eyes are still closed.
The grunts go off to fight, and the trucks head down the back roads of Hue, with three guards. They are trying to get us to the hospital at Phi-by. We keep stopping along the way and picking up more dead and wounded.
A pale Marine is placed roughly, onto the truck. We lay head to head.
I don’t feel so good he tells me. I think I am going to die. That’s why they put me on this fucking flat bed. Why aren’t you dead? Everyone on this fucking truck is dead.
I’m not dead, not even close. Where are you hit?
In the legs, I think, I can’t tell. I just know I am going to die.
We round a corner and there is an explosive volley of incoming. He starts to try to climb down from the moving truck.
Hay don’t do that man. We will only have to stop and pick you up.
I take him by the hand and he stops moving. when he is calm I try to withdraw my hand. and he does not release his grasp, so I hold on to his cold hand.
Do you Think I will die?
I kind of jump when he speaks because I think he is already dead.
No . You should be OK. You have lasted this long.
I hold his hand tightly and the trucks move around a bend and out of the enemy’s line of fire. He takes a deep breath and than goes limp. I am sure the Marine is dead.
Two of the three guards on the truck are wounded in the attack. I can hear things going on around me, but I can’t move and I just lay here looking at Doc. I can hear the other truck drive off and I am glad we will be moving again.
I can no longer hear the six- by and the flat bed truck hasn’t moved.
Fire-fights are going on all around us. I’m laying quiet, wishing I could drive a standard so, I could drive us the fuck out of here. It’s getting dark and the flashing sky gives me no comfort. I try to stay awake, as the Corpsman told me. I’m Trying to keep watch over the truck but I am falling. The hard truck bed and the closeness of the cool bodies.
When I come too, I am very thirsty. Before my eyes is a pool of water. I reach for my canteens, I like to keep my canteen full. They are gone, so are my shined boots and new utilities. I am wearing only a white cloth wrapped around my waist and held with a tuck.
I dip my cupped hand into the clear cool water and I bring it to my lips, and I drink. Again and again I fill my hand with water and gulp it into my mouth, but no matter how many times I drink, I can not quench my thirst, I give up and turn from the pool, to see where I am.
I think of my wound and reach for the dressing on my head. The bandage is gone and my fingers feel a long thin line of perfectly sewn stitches, running six inches, from behind my mostly missing ear to the top of my skull. I feel no pain.
I believe, I have I woken up from a coma, or amnesia. and if so how did I get here’
The room I am in is dimly lit, a long hall of which I can not see the end. There are many objects, against the walls and in the shadowed distance. Statues and alters and the smell of incense covering up the smell of shit.
I try my legs and they work fine. I’m thirsty but I feel pretty good. I am happy the awful seasick feeling, caused by the morphine is gone.
I’d rather the pain. I say aloud.
You have had a lot of pain today
I recognize the voice and look beyond the water to see a young man in an orange robe.
Not the Doc who stitched me up, behind the wall, or the one who gave me the morphine, it is the Doc I had seen killed in the street, trying to save the new guy.
I have seen guys who live through terrible wounds. Marines that we thought were dead when we put them on the chopper, would often, show up in a month or so, back in the bush, to complete their tour.
Hay doc! I thought you were dead. Where the fuck are we?
Where we are does not matter, and I am sure we see it differently.
We are in a place where you can make things happen and you may have what you want, take lives if you wish. a place with me.
I think of the lives I took this afternoon. How much I wanted them dead. How happy I am they are dead. I don’t give a shit about their mothers and sisters.
I can hear another voice.
I look to my left. A Vietnamese girl is standing in the corner. When she speaks, I can hear the battle, raging outside the walls of the temple. She is silent and a voice comes from behind the alters and shrines.
Everything but the voice disappears.
I might be dead, but I’m not in heaven.
Less boldly I ask again. Where am I?
Doc appears again, his voice is strong, and clear, full of life.
How Is your wound ?
I’m glad to see him. I thought I was lost with only the voice.
Feels good. How long have I been out?
Time doesn’t mean much here.
Where exactly is here, Doc?
When I ask, an old monk, who I didn’t see come in, is standing beside me.
Here is where you do not belong; living or dead.
I looked over at Doc, who glares at the old man.
Am I dead Doc? Are we both dead?
I could try to explain it to you, but you will never understand . Do you feel dead?,
I wasn’t dead on the flat bed.
Your not dead, The old Monk tells me but, it may prove better if you were.
Be glad I didn’t bring them all.
Doc walks over to the old monk, who is stooped and frail. When he reaches the old man, the girl in the corner speaks up again. When she speaks, I can hear the battle raging, outside the walls.
You are here now. Her dark eyes are filled with tears, one moment and the next she looks seductive, the next angry and the sound of battle is her voice.
Stop the old monk shouts.
The doc turns on him. What? The war.? This War? All War?
The girl speaks to me. I think she is telling me to come with her, but I can’t hear her over the sounds of fighting outside the wall. When she is silent, the battle sounds fade.
The old man is somewhat recovered from his consternation. He whispers to Doc but I can’t hear what he tells him.
Doc looks at me.
He fears you suffer. Do you suffer?
No, I feel pretty good.
Doc opens his robe to reveal a purple bruise and jagged lines of stitching.
How did we get here Doc? What’s going on, am I dreaming ,were we captured?
This is no dream; you are here in the flesh. I am with you. You are free, you are powerful.
What do we do Doc. Do we stay here and listen to the battle and drink the water, that won’t quench our thirst?
What you see around you is what you have chosen to see.
What do you mean Doc, what I have chosen to see?
Everything here, the old Monk, the girl, even me.
So we are dead!
No we are here in this place; a place that you will never understand. We can go anywhere you want, do whatever you pleas.
I want to tell Doc that this is all too much, it is time to stop fucking around, but I know what he is saying is true. I believe him. Doc would never lie to me. I trust him.
What about my Mother. What about the Marine Corps.
That truck is out there, everyone is dead. I have said you can go anywhere you want. Is that where you want go?
I can’t go home?
My mother will be looking for me, I need to go home. Where’s the door Doc, how did we get here, how do we get out?
I don’t think you understand, first of all there is no door.
You are not where you think you are.
What do you mean Doc? I can hear the battle right outside the wall. But when I listen, I hear nothing.
You say I can go anywhere. What do you mean by that, and in an instant the walls melt into a horizon and I can see lights below and the outlines of a beach.
Doc is beside me and we are both naked. The air is light and cool but not cold. The girl and the old man are here too, naked as well. The girl makes no attempt to cover herself. I see she is beautiful. The old man however is indignant, cowering and covering his privates with both hands.
We are naked let us go back, at once; the old man pleads.
This teleportation feels perfectly natural to me, no more foreign than training to be a Marine, sleeping in holes, and killing. I am not afraid of what is happening. I know I’m not dreaming and I know I’m not dead.
We are on the beach in Rio, I can tell from pictures I‘ve seen.
We walk down from the hillside. I don’t know the time, it’s dark, the beach is crowded, with people, from all around the world, some are naked as we are.
The four of us walk past the groups of or all ages playing in the light surf or, standing at the waters edge. I wonder if there is still blood on my back.
I’m going to take a swim.
Great idea. Let’s all take a swim.
The girl is reluctant and Doc coaxes her into the water. The old man, who is still holding his hands over his crotch and looking quite distressed by his nakedness, gladly enters the dark water.
We are all in the water and everyone is enjoying themselves, even the old man. The girl dives beneath the waves and presses her naked body against me. She has said nothing, and I wonder, if she speaks, will I hear the sounds of war.
I look upon her naked body and I feel a great desire for her. I try to force myself to drive these thoughts from my mind and the more I try not to think of her, the more I want her.
She swims to the shore and is speaking to a group of people. There are no war sounds. She charms, the people to give us whatever we want. They lavish us with cloths and money. My first thought is that that this is stealing. But so is lifting cloths from the guys in he air wing, or pilfering food from the mess tent. I guess I have learned to be a thief.
Doc loves the girl’s gift and encourages her to demand more and more, until some are left naked and penniless.
I’m starting to notice something is wrong with Doc.
What’s wrong Doc, You feeling all right,
He looks at me, a smile curling his lips. All you can imagine can be yours, go anywhere, do anything you want, and her; he gestures to the girl who is sitting close beside me.
We are at the head table, in the best restaurant the city has to offer. under the table, the girl’s knees are touching mine and it is sending shivers through my body. I look toward the old monk his face is serious, eyes cast down.
I’m happy, the food fills me, and the water quenches my thirst.
Doc presses on. Time moves in this place, and time is short, will you take this gift.
This all feels good to me Doc.
I can hardly remember the war or home and my mother. I look from Doc to the girl, who is smiling at me.
Whatever you want Doc.
Doc starts to remind me of being left on the truck to die. I feel angry and I let the anger flow over me. I think about the six-by just driving off the way it had, and a rage consumes me. I am more angry than I have ever been in my life and it scares me.
The girl smiles and the sounds of war, thunder in my ears. The old man bows his head
I see a woman at another table and she starts to choke. Trays fall, glasses and plates brake. The waiters rush to help the woman but they have no skills, the woman is soon turning purple.
I know Doc can save her, I’ve seen Doc do a tracheotomy on a Marine who got his jaw blown off, by a booby trap. He can save this woman.
Doc is paying no attention to the woman. He is sipping his drink, talking to the Monk about how fresh the fruit is and how old the cheese. Old German cheese he tells the monk. Remember the Germans old man. And his eyes shine scarlet.
Doc, what the fuck is the matter with you? Who cares about the fucking fruit. Go save that woman.
I will not.
Please Doc, Don’t fuck around. the price is too high.
Who do you think you are kidding, a life is a life, hers or the men you killed today, what difference does it make.
They were trying to kill me.
I start to get up
The Girl has a hold on my arm and won’t let go.
You will lose it all.
I pull from the girls grasp, leap to my feet and run to the chocking woman. The waiters try to keep me away. I tell them in fluent Protégés that I have medical training. I don’t tell them, it consists of three, two hour training sessions in boot camp.
I get behind the woman and clasp my fists together, between her ample breasts and I yank her into my chest. Once , twice, three times, I pull her into my chest lifting her completely off the floor and a chunk of that fresh fruit Doc, is so fond of, flies from her throat and into the air. Everyone stands where they are for a moment.
I wonder if I first chocked her with my anger, and now I have broken her ribs. She gasps a breath and than another and she turns and hugs me. Every one claps and shouts bravo.
Everyone but Doc.
The monk, who is dressed in a silk shirt and designer pants, still looks like a monk, he is smiling at me. The girl is gone.
In the blink of an eye we are back in the temple. the girl is calling to me and the war raging outside the walls. The old priest is standing in the middle of the room triumphant. That which pretends to be Doc, stands in the shadows. I can feel the scorn.
You had me fooled for awhile. but I know Doc would never have let that woman die. Who are you? What have you done with Doc?
He’s on the flat bed truck, so will you be if you don’t come with me now. Think of it? A life of peace and happiness. If there are tears they need not be yours.
I look to the girl, what about you?
You desire war, to kill your enemies, I am war, and you will always love me.
And you old man; What’s your part in all this?
Without me, he would have cheated. He is a cheater and a liar who can appear in whatever form he chooses. Now go, before the sun is up.
I can see the dawn coming up over the wall, damp, and smoke filled.
I walk to the pool of clear waters and fill my canteens. I notice my hands are filthy caked with grime and blood.
I can hear Marines around me, they are unloading the truck and putting the bodies on mules for a short ride to a secure LZ.
No one is moving very fast, and I get pissed off .
What the fuck! I say as loud as I can. I need a corpsman. Hay what the fuck, get me off this fucking flat bed truck.
I watch Lewis reverently approach the Marine who’s hand I am still holding. When he leans in to separate our hands, I grasp his hand. My voice is dry and weak. Get me the fuck off this truck.
Startled Lewis withdraws his hand and gives me a big smile and calls out to the Corporal in charge
Get the corpsman, he‘s alive.
They are lifting me out of the truck and onto a stretcher
Somebody give him a drink.
Anyone got any water?
No one has any water.
I hear Lewis say he might have some water on him, he always has water.
He’s got two full canteens!
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