Monthly Archives: January 2016

EXCERPT FROM “HEIRS OF HONOR” – ‘WELCOME TO THE NAM’


 

“….Tragically, the Guerilla Infantry remained experimental; because in the first hour Da Nang, while waiting for orders, we were placed in a large Quonset hut that was destroyed, forty minutes after our occupancy.   The enemy dropped a huge mortar shell on that hut, and ended the experimental unit.  Before that explosion, I was a member of the first company of the Guerilla Infantry to land in Vietnam, about 280 men.  Most of us were nineteen years old, and didn’t think for a moment that we could be a tempting target for anyone.  We felt safe in that giant military base.  When crowded together, we made one great target for some Viet Cong mortar team, and they could not resist.  We were all talking, nervously staring out the mosquito netted windows, when the shell hit….”

“….I recall annoyance at the guys behind me for shoving, or so I thought for a fraction of a moment, then my face hit the net, my feet left the ground, and my head burst through it.  I was out of the hut, flying through the air, my body stinging on one side, from the slap I received.  I rolled and bounced a few times, as I hit the ground.  When I stopped, my ears were ringing at a painful volume, and I wanted to take a nap.  I fought that urge, and got my knees under me.  It was difficult to open my eyes.  My fingers felt the reassuring warmth of the earth, as I got on all fours, but I was dizzy and could not get up for a minute.  I waited for it to pass.  My eyes opened.  There was a terrible smell all around me.  I had a sheet of something on my right shoulder.  I was wondering what happened, when it slid off and made a plopping sound.  The instant I looked at what fell off my shoulder, I vomited.  It was a long stringy sheet of skin, with a tattoo in it.  I retched, over, and over, until I was empty.  I was not sure if I could hear yelling, or if it was my ears ringing.  I got to my feet, and saw others doing the same.  The stink was incredible.  There were sounds of trucks and voices.  My dizziness was passing.  I was wet and looked to see why, a decision I’ll forever regret.  Blood and shit, and bits of intestines, were all over me.  I shuddered in revulsion and stripped off my clothes, unable to stop the convulsions of a new wave of violent retching.  I was naked when I stood, the second time.  A couple of guys joined me, after a few minutes….”

“….One of them said, “Let’s get away from this shit.”  We all agreed, and walked toward the closest tent.  There were six of us when we got there, but no one would let us in because they watched us walking toward them, and every one of us had to stop along the way to retch.  We gathered in front, not capable of arguing.  Then, an angel of mercy came to our rescue, in the form of a sergeant with a hose.  Six naked cherries stood groaning in gratitude, as he hosed us down.  The sergeant hosed us, patiently, and said the only words I remember that day, “Welcome to the Nam, boys….”

EXCERPT FROM “HEIRS OF HONOR” – ‘BURIAL GROUND’


 

 

“…We moved through the jungle, struggling to be as silent as shadows.  Unexpectedly, we came upon a clearing and froze before trying to cross.  Why the jungle stopped growing was a mystery to all of us.  Even the normal sounds were absent; no birds, no insects, no rustling of twigs, just silence, still and oppressive.  The atmosphere was uncomfortable and vaguely familiar.  The slightest hint of death wafted through the air.  Someone whispered ‘burial grounds’.   Nodding in unison, we remembered the eerie adventures of exploring neighborhood cemeteries, as children.  Our eyes darted furtively, the hair on our necks needed rubbing.  As our hands massaged away our tingles, every one of us noticed, every other one of us, busy doing the same thing.  A group snort of self-conscious embarrassment huffed away the quiet….”

“…Aware we were walking into something unusual, we cat walked and tip toed, while entering the clearing.  We didn’t wish to intrude, wanting to respect the privacy of the dead.  A silence hung over the graves and violating it felt sacrilegious.  The occupants’ resentment of our intrusion seemed palpable to the air.  The place felt menacing and aware.  As if the agony once experienced by the dead, remained.  The place blocked out the world.  We felt dread strong enough to make us clutch our weapons tighter….”

“…Hidden away in the highlands, forgotten by the world, a troop of soldiers lie buried.  Whoever they were doesn’t matter, now.  Their last battle was fought, long ago.  They are at peace.  They do not wish to be disturbed.  Their grave markers have rotted into implied forms, leaving only the slightest trace of having ever been.  Even the grave mounds have flattened out.  We stood on the same ground where those nameless men gave their all, and realized we were following in their footsteps.  Here we were, enthusiastically taking our turn to fight and die.  We were looking at our own future, and knew it.  How many years would pass before some future invader would stumble upon American graves?  What would he think?  Would he wonder who we were?  Would we have died well, in his opinion?  Would it matter?  That was the first time I realized Vietnam was a land of unending war.  A thousand years of invasions had flooded this land with blood.  Nameless thousands of soldiers had died, fighting countless battles here.  No one remembered and nothing was accomplished, the soldiers kept on coming, and kept on dying….”

EXCERPT FROM “HEIRS OF HONOR” – ‘DOWN TO THE CHILDREN’


“…My military career had taken a direction I never expected.   A Demolition Team later established the explosives were strapped to those kids, so I was justified.  The children couldn’t get out of the harnesses.  Somehow, Charlie had forced them on a suicide mission.  The VC had radio-controlled detonators and probably watched from nearby.  Possibly, Charlie wanted the kids to walk near our C.O.  Perhaps it was part of the never-ending psy-war against us, designed to prevent relaxation, anywhere.  The war became something else for me on that day.  Charlie became contemptible in my eyes.  What kind of human kills children to kill a soldier?  I had lost all feelings of respect for my enemy.  Why we were fighting became unclear.  Maybe we were fighting because that’s what soldiers do.  Just a mean little war, fought for nothing more than the sake of fighting, and testing new weapons systems.  It was going to be a very long time before I saw anything human in Vietnam.  I had taken my first step into the madness that is common to soldiers.  It is extremely unnerving, knowing your enemy hated you with such intensity they were willing to kill their children to get at you….”