General Fiction posted October 21, 2014


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1200 word snap shot of a Nam vet

No Glory for Nam Vets

by Spiritual Echo

Private First Class William Colbert was twenty miles south of Tan Son Nhut, his home base in South Vietnam, when he looked up and saw the choppers. A slow smile spread across the young man's face. Operation Ranch Hand was launched, taking the inaugural flight with its new weapon, a poisonous herbicide that would destroy foliage, kill crops and starve the Cong, ending the war.

That was the expectation, the promise made to the battle-weary GIs who were fighting an ugly war. Any glory the soldiers nurtured when they boarded the aircraft that took them to Asia had disappeared, replaced by despair. Americans had no experience fighting in the jungle. The new recruits faced more than one enemy. If the Viet Cong didn't kill them, the climate with it's humid heat, fire ants and the threat of malaria posed an equal threat to their survival.

Will had a reason to live. Mary's letters gave him the strength to survive, not only fighting the enemy, but eluding the demons that had taken hold of many of his buddies. Most of the men in his unit found escape in cheap drugs and alcohol. They'd become tough, automated killing machines, and Will was no different; it was either that or die. Will missed Mary desperately and had every intention of going home. With her, he thought he might become normal again. Viet Nam was a nightmare, but he'd lived this long sober; he was determined he'd never become a 'head.' He wanted his bride to be proud of him.

They married just months before his deployment. "Too young," both sets of parents protested. Will's deferment was running out. He'd graduated from college and Mary insisted that marriage might extend his draft deferment. "Maybe the war will end before your number comes up," Mary said.

It was a simple wedding with only a few friends and family, but that suited them both just fine. They had dreams to chase and a small walk-up apartment to decorate. Mary worked part-time at Sears. The job came with a staff discount. Each payday new cushions or colourful kitchen curtains appeared. Will came home each evening from working at the insurance company and choked down supper. Mary wasn't much of a cook, but what skills she lacked in the kitchen, she more than made up for in the bedroom. They were happy.

"What are we fighting for?" Mary wept when the letter arrived, instructing Will to report to Fort Bliss.

"I'll be damned if I know, but it's my patriotic duty to report for service."

Will watched the chopper drop its load, feeling the mist wash over him as the blades threw up a breeze offering the GIs some relief from the sweltering heat. No one on the patrol was concerned they'd been blanketed with the fallout.

"Perfectly safe," the sergeant told his men. "It'll kill the rice, but can't do you harm."

Will wished bombers would drop Napalm on the jungle. This week, the gooks had killed six men from the unit. They're out there, Will thought, carefully scanning the perimeter of the undergrowth for signs of movement.

"Sneaky little bastards," he cursed under his breath. He was with Jake, his buddy, when he'd taken the wrong step and hit a booby trap. He went down on the Punj Stake that turned Jake's body into a bloody checkerboard, eight spears piercing his chest.

He hated Charlie, but fought the vengeful rage that threatened his soul. Jake was his friend, but there was no way to taste the sweet satisfaction of revenge. Few uniforms identified the enemy. Innocent looking women and children met patrols with grenades strapped to their thighs. Rob had his throat slit when he stopped for a smoke. The gooks slid in and out of the jungle and the men no longer knew when they emptied their rifles whether they were fighting a war or committing murder.

"Alright, ladies, the show's over. Let's head back to camp." The sergeant's voice boomed in the void left by the chopper's retreating roar.

Certain that the enemy would evacuate the jungle when the chopper dropped its load, Will and seven other men were on a mission to pick off the gooks running to safety, but none had emerged.

There was a euphoria-like mood among the soldiers as they turned to head back, but it was short-lived. Shots rang out. Will heard the grunt of the soldier who fell at his feet, blood oozing from his back. He whirled to see a dozen Cong lining the road, shooting down the exposed patrol like targets in an arcade game. There was nowhere to hide and a split second before he felt the burning shots hit his belly and upper thighs.

Will's last thought was of Mary. "I'm coming home--finally," he whispered as his face hit the gravelled road.

Will's first indication that he hadn't died was the whirling buzz of the chopper as it set down on the road.

"This one's alive," he heard someone yell, and felt hands grabbing him, lifting him onto a stretcher. The medivac transported Will back to camp, then he was flown to Saigon, before he was shipped stateside. He drifted in and out of consciousness, but only long enough for him to identify the sterile medical smell. He had no idea where he was, but every time he came to, he whispered to Mary. "Soon--I'll be coming home--soon."

*****

"Doctor, considering we are very short-staffed, it seems unreasonable that we can monitor our employment schedule in such a way that we avoid Oriental staff in this ward."

The doctor turned, pushed back his bifocals and took a last glance at the old man moaning for Mary, and left the hospital room. "Unless you are prepared to deal with these incidents, that's exactly what you must do."

"Good Lord, Doctor, surely you are not pandering to an old man's dementia. The Viet Nam War has been over for almost fifty years. Can you not simply increase the medication, sedate Mr. Colbert so that we can go about the business of running this hospital smoothly?"

The doctor shook his head. He too was tired of Viet Nam memories. He'd served in the war, and for all he knew, he might have been the medic that accompanied Private Colbert to the hospital. So many, he thought, thinking about the enormous death toll.

"Nurse, this is a VA hospital. It's easier to treat vets from Iraq, maybe even more fashionable. Most Americans still believe there's purpose to this war, but trust me, in time even these brave young men will question its value, and look at their maimed bodies and ask why. Private Colbert will never understand why his own country poisoned him and perhaps it's a blessing he never will. The Vietnamese may have harvested his legs, but the American government stole his mind with a bath in Agent Orange.

Now, he's been here, off and on for more than four decades. Doesn't the man have the right to feel safe in his home?"

"Yes, Sir," the nurse answered.

"Good! Then keep the gooks out of his room."









Getting Home contest entry

Recognized


Operation Ranch Hand--the code name for dropping Agent Orange on Viet Nam

Agent Orange--a very strong herbicide, 50 times stronger than any agricultural pesticide. Viet Nam reported almost 5million deaths and 400,000 children born with birth defects directly attributed to Agent Orange.

Napalm--a mixture of plastic polystyrene, hydrocarbon benzene and gasoline. When the jelly-like substance is ignited, it burns for up to ten minutes at temperatures between 1,500-2,200F.

Charlie--slang for Victor-Charlie, the designated transmission code for VC or Viet Cong, Charlie became used as code name for the enemy.

Cong--Viet Cong.

Gooks--Vietnamese soldiers.

Heads--refers to GIs using drugs and alcohol-war-related addicts.

Punj Stake--a primitive booby trap. spears fashioned from scrap metal or trees, hidden under foliage to impale unsuspecting GIs.

Medivac--helicopters used to evacuate injured soldiers from combat areas.
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