In what might seem a disjointed piece of narrative, we never quite got to understand why Bill was in the hospital, or more on those he met along the way.
This should precede the reading in Day 22
“Bastards,” Killer muttered.
We called him ‘Killer’ because it was the nickname the Army had given him. We were sharing the guard duty and had spoken briefly over the watch, but up till then, the silence had stretched over an hour or so. It didn’t take long for anyone to realize he was a man of few words.
He’d been in the regular army for years and asked for the posting. He’d made Sergeant several times, only to lose those same stripes for fighting, usually after R&R and a bout of heavy drinking. Now assigned to our platoon to lend his experience, the conscripts were expecting him to ‘look after’ them. Other than myself and the Lieutenant, he was the only other regular soldier. Unfortunately for them, he hated both conscripts and the Viet Cong in varying degrees, and depending on his mood there was little tolerance left for the rest of us.
“The people who sent us here or the people trying to kill us?” I asked before I realized I’d spoken.
I didn’t hear the reply, the skies opening up with another torrential downpour that lasted for about five minutes, and going as fast as it came. When the sun finally came up, it would make the atmosphere steamy, hot, and unbearable. It was quite warm now, and I was feeling both uncomfortable, and fatigued.
Killer looked just as stoic as he had before the rain. He looked at me. “Damn weather. Worse than home.”
“Scapa Flow, Kirkwall. I should have been an engineer on ships like my father, but I was too stupid. Joined the Army, finished up here. What’s your excuse?”
“Square peg in a round hole. The army seems to handle us in its stride.” It was more or less the truth. I joined the Army to get away from my parents.
“That it does. That it does.”
The rain came and went, during which the rest of the camp roused and went about its business. It had been a long night for some, still getting over the shock of the attack, and the ever-pervading thought the enemy was still out there, biding their time. It would be, for them, a waiting game, waiting for the conditions to wear us down, and lose concentration as inevitably we would.
Certainly, by the time we were relieved from sentry duty, I felt I was in no condition to match wits with a donkey, let alone the enemy on his own home ground. When I stumbled over to the mess area and looked at the tired and haggard looks on the faces of the platoon, I realized that went for all of us.
Killer and I managed to get about an hour’s rest before the call came to move out, rain or no rain, and after a breakfast to make anyone ill, we left. For hours it rained. No one spoke as we strained to listen over the rain spattering on the undergrowth, all the time expecting the unexpected. That was the benefit of the surprise attack; we no longer took for granted we would be safe.
Water gathered in pools along the trail, hiding any chance of seeing landmines. Rainwater and sweat ran into our eyes, making it difficult to see. Water leaked everywhere, making it very uncomfortable. This was not war. This was utter stupidity.
I was about to remark on the futility of it all to the Lieutenant, who had taken the lead, when one second he was talking to me and the next he crashed to the ground, a sniper’s bullet killing him instantly. Someone yelled “Contact” and we hit the ground, bullets flying all around us.
Too late, I thought, as I felt the hit of what seemed to be a large rock, then the searing pain in my leg, just as I hit the ground…
© Charles Heath 2015-2020