2/503d VIETNAM Newsletter / Mar.-Apr. 2016 – Issue 66
Delta Company Night Laager The Tiger Mountains, 2340 Hours.
From converging streams of green tracers to napalm on a cloud-filled morning, nothing generated fear like a search-and-destroy mission under a Ranger moon. Illuminated by a sense of isolation, memories worked in concert, jarring a man’s being from one halting sound to the nest.
Stubbs was desperate for a foxhole. The smells were a matter of habit; dry and moist clay, damp thatch, dung, rotting vegetation, garlic sweat, urine, palm pollen, rice, the South China Sea. Stubbs set his face to the breeze. He could smell it. He could taste the rain coming.
The starshine chased their silhouettes in odd circles. Shadows pranced on the clay surface of the paddy. Muffled footsteps sounded. Ski stumbled on the till, then fell with a dull rasp. Long-bodied images of lost men skirted the flanks of the cream-colored paddy dike. The dike cast a luminous hue as if beckoning Joe’s chose route. The rustling noise in the palm trees rushed their pace; the air was heavy with the coming monsoon. Stubbs and Sky were friends.
“Get fat if you can.” That’s what Stubbs liked to say goading death’s wish.
Two columns of men marched in a synchronous wobble as one misstep, and then another, sounded on the furrowed clods sending a man scrambling for offended posture. A weapon slammed the ground with a shout. Shadows crouched, the trail below Hardin’s promontory, eighty meters away.
Hardin strained to recognize his friends, breathing through his mouth. He found Rap, then Ski and Stubbs. They were in the middle of the left file. Icy currents of fear flowed over the knoll. The paddy field was plain enough now – empty, except for a band of men, trudging with their muzzle to the ground. “I could shoot them all,” Hardin whispered.
Feet began to churn as if they scorned their cowardly pace.
In the penumbra of the night a tenor bell rang out, a clear, sharp note assaulting the gray-black horizon with a gathering knell. The white spire of the temple bobbed in a sea of black palms, shining like a diamond in a goat’s ass.
Feet began to clamor.
The bell’s echo seized Hardin’s chest. A thrust forced his fear when the bell rang a second time, sharpening its edge. Hardin set an ear to Dooley’s radio handset.
Stubbs was certain. “Get fat if you can.”
Hardin drew his weapon to his shoulder, listening, searching. The whispers of panic joined his fear. The weapon seemed to search on its own. He found Stubbs, and then Amps.
Within the confines of the next second, death hung on the GIs boot.
Tennessee spit expletives into the handset. Gasping as if he was drowning his words packed the texture of a worn out prayer. The bell rang a third time. Within the bells call, a thunderous explosion laminated itself into a sudden hush.
The men of Charlie Company disappeared in a cloud and agony set sail.
Frantic voices poured into the moon filled night, screaming at God.
Enraged, Hardin lowered his weapon. He was guilty of desertion. Staring vacantly into the pall of smoke, at the shadows of the survivors, he waited for the second Claymore to be fired.
Dust and debris hung in the night air like a tethered frog, billowing from side to side. The vapor of young bodies and odor of their blood, mixed with the dung in the paddy field. An ocherous glow attached itself to the men left whole.
Frantic men screamed that other men should stop screaming. Stunned, Hardin listened for the voices he might recognize.
Disbelief rang and rang again.
One scream rang louder than the rest: My legs. My legs.
PeeWee would die in Spanish.
Rap would die silently, seething with hate.
Men blackened by the night stumbled in the luminescent cloud, the cloud first yellow, then orange where the star shine sent light chasing the tail of a running man. In an instant the wounded were silent. Desperate pods of men search for missing limbs.
Tennessee badgered the radio for a medevac, for gunships, and for mercy. Joes orders echoed, then hung like an ornament in the confusion. The night air pulsed with shock soaked by the pleas for morphine and the grief of men still whole.
Broken men clattered in the dark, wishing for strength.
The screams enveloped Delta Company. The war had had its way. Night screams did not travel on oscillating waves. They seared a mans throat like an arrow shaft, burning, pulsing with pain, each scream the caliber of shattering glass.
For Hardin the screams brought resentment and the resentment became whole as he fought to lay claim to the casualties. The questions would not stop. What really happened, what it meant and why was Joe moving at night?