Song Be to Breakdown to Settling Down

Lt. Steve Sharp 1969

We’re in Song Be. How long has it been? Two weeks? Three? In 1999 the Lieutenant said we once spent over a hundred days straight in the bush. I said, "Are you sure, LT?" He said, "Oh, I remember that all right." Anyway, I give the camera to gunner Jim Lamb, or rifleman Jean Locklear, or point man Larry Roy, or rifleman Glenn Williams (a handsome man later shot by Bill Williams who reflexively pulled the trigger as he fell; an enemy round had bored into his helmet and sliced open the back of his head. “Bill... Bill. It’s me, Doc. Bill, you’re gonna be all right.” But his eyes are wide open and lifeless, as if he can see everything). Or RTO Mike Wilson who followed Six over the berm on LZ Ranch, blowing the female sapper away; or brave squad leader Jerry Bieck. I don’t remember. I loved them all. Take the picture for Christ sake. Just take it. After the shutter clicks we have movement, but it's a false alarm. Getting up I stuff the camera into a waterproof bag, stuff that into my pack. Ten minutes later we move out.
It’s the same picture I hallucinated in the rain forest in Sumatra while walking with Mr. Mohammed, my guide. For three days we trek hard, morning to dusk, and I love every mud slick minute. It’s just like the jungle in Song Be: a great green curtain of wait-a-minute vines, dense thick scrub, thrown down or exotic spiraling trees, the bright light filtering through the triple layers, filling the silence with heat. In the steam hot day we sweat buckets and march: Mr. Mohammed cuts a trail just like Larry Roy, raising the machete's blade up, slicing it down, whack, whack, whack. There is the returning beat of bend and sway, of stepping or crawling under, over, or around rocks, trees or bodies; there is the pulling of branches behind oneself so as not to snap them or whip the man behind you. My body is hunched forward, my trigger finger extends over an unseen trigger guard, like on patrol.
We are awash in rivers of sweat and breathing hard. The soft dirt of the hill grows heavy and we are caked with it but when we stop we smile. Mr. Mohammed says, “You wait here,” and goes to cut and carve walking sticks. Without thinking I lean forward, brace my hands on my knees, the way we grunts did when taking five. Beads of salty sweat roll down my face and sting my eyes but I’m too tired to move. For no reason I look up. The life size apparition is fifteen meters ahead. It's vivid and solid and three dimensional. Seconds later it begins to sparkle and shimmer, then melts away.

I hear Mr. Mohammed returning. “For you,” he says, handing me a long pointed stick. His black mustache accentuates his wide grin. I’m drenched with my tears and the tears of my sweat so he cannot tell I’ve been weeping. We move out.

Later, at close range we see a male orangutan and its mate, the baby riding her back. We find a tigers lair but the animal is long gone. Later, back at camp we see the crazy woman who lives with chickens and ducks in her rickety hut. And later, at Mr. Mohammed's house, his wife falls to the floor convulsing and he treats her with herbs and incense while his toddlers play, her legs kick, her eyes roll back, she feints and goes limp. Later, much later, after truck rides, checkpoints, fruit bats, a rat eaten hole in my pack, visits to the American embassy, visits to temples, villas, cockfights, after the blessed horseback ride on the long white beach at Parangtritis. After telling the pock faced Javanese massage woman who forced her knuckles deep into my back, “No, it's not good. 'No bagus,' ” I said. After sitting in decrepit chairs in high domed thatched huts in Yogyakarta's sprawling bird market, enchanted by the stink and song and squalor. After the wretched strip malls of industrial Surabaya; after having my fortune read by a friends sister in a six hundred year old stone house in Beaujolais, France, “You are my suicide man,” she said, handing me the cards. Much, much later, after declining cocaine in London from a doctor befriended in Mexico; after sipping red wine with friends while overlooking azure Lake Geneva, trying my best to appear sane but knowing they knew that I knew that I did not fool them. Later, in Amsterdam, after visiting Rembrandt's house, Ann Frank's house, the red light district, paying thirty guilders to a Colombian woman, “Hold me, please hold me,” I said after we did not have sex. At last, after hiding out in the cramped Dutch pension where I did not know who or when or where I was: a short flight home where I arrived one day before my DEROS twenty-six years after the event and moved sixteen times from '96 to 2002 before finally settling down.

Sheriff Steve Sharp 1999

Jim Lamb

Glenn Williams

"Six" CPT Leland Hyslop

Marc Levy
Hallucinated Photo

Horses at Parangtritis

Consulate Card


Marc Levy        Then  and  Now
D 1/7 Cav '69-'70

Also Read Marc Levy's 1995 Travel Journal Entries with Photos  -  A Grunts Life Around Quan Loi Song Be Patrol - Quan Loi to Cambodia


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