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In the beautiful jungle it is a wonderful,
pitiful, tumbledown affair sad in all its splendor. The LT wears
dark framed glasses; his bright red hair is thick and curly: we call
him Carrot Top. Carrot Top says Six says build a bunker. We’re on
patrol in Song Be where the enemy is often heard before seen, or
shoot us first. We are
engineers, but armed with sandbags and machetes we obey orders and
begin to make war.
Jim Dumb and
Papa san show us how
to do it. The
Kit Carsons are adept
at making quick cuts to the base of bamboo. While they cut and cut,
we dig and dig, fill the blue green bags with soft moist dirt, carve
a man sized hole in virginal ground.
Carrot Top oversees
fitting the pieces tight. “Lay this pole here. Lay that one there,”
he says. “ More sand bags. More.” Soon we are streaked with sweat
the work is almost done.
We rest up, chow down, burn chunks of C-4 to cook our meals. Later,
a cloverleaf patrol finds nothing. We settle in, stake the trips and
claymores, read books, and write letters, wait for guard.
It’s quiet. So beautifully quiet. There is the jungles dark organic
scent. There is the windless flutter of thin bamboo leaves twirling
down. In secret places the sun dapples pools of light.
It’s quiet. So beautifully quiet. It is the time before LZ Compton
is hit while we play cards, rush to bunkers, find out later Papa san
called in the rounds. It’s the time before Johnny B is riddled by
friendly fire; the time before half the company is mauled; it is the
time before the platoon is whittled in half, and slowly we fall
apart. We draw match sticks for guard. Two shifts per man. Two hours
In the morning we destroy
the bunker and move
out: The point man, first in line, M-16 at the ready, safety off,
takes careful measured steps; the slack man with his pump action
shot gun; next, spaced five meters apart a half dozen riflemen, full
ammo clips socked into bandoliers lightly slapping their chests.
Behind them the
machine gun team, the
gunner shouldering the angular weapon, tipping it slightly to the
crux of his neck, the ammo bearer crisscrossed with ammo belts
looped in permanent cascade; the LT from time to time checking his
grid marked topo map; the
RTO bearing the
square metal chunk with its hard plastic hand set and flexible whip
the medic, his white
bandages wrapped in thick transparent plastic, stuffed in a claymore
bag; more nervous riflemen; the last man, toting the M-79 wears a
pocketed nylon vest stuffed with 40mm shells.
As the rippling line moves forward, all of us, short timers, old
timers, lifers and FNGs count backwards from three hundred sixty
five, waiting, waiting for whatever comes next.
Chieu hoi leaflets,
well used trails, clear cool streams; the sudden crackle of small
arms fire, the chaos and killing and unspeakable fear; the sad sight
of line ones and line twos; the whirling choppy tune we love; the
lush boom of 155s, the sinister thuump of incoming; the strong scent
of good weed, the metallic taste of warm flat beer; the lingo of
“Solid copy,” and, “Don’t mean nothing,” and “Gonna kick ass and
take names later;” the midnight hand tapping, “Its your guard;” the
murderless twang of Stars and Stripes; log days that bring water,
food, letters from home; the rising tension, the rhythm of it: we
walk into them, they walk into us, we walk into each other; the
business of flies on the mouths of the dead until it starts all over
This is our world until the day we leave this tumbledown war that
will never truly leave us.
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