Writing about writing a book – Day 15

Our main character Bill probably needs to give an account of the situation he found himself in.  I have, for a while, considered that he is just another soldier who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, but now, I want to add a dimension.

He finishes up where he is, in the end, because he chose to be there, and it was something of a rocky ride to get there.

That I’m still planning in my head.

In the meantime, this is the initial piece I wrote for his situation description:

I used to joke about telling people my middle name was ‘danger’.  It seemed I was not the only one, and for a time, worked with a group of soldiers and ex-soldiers in a capacity similar to that of being a mercenary.

Each one of us had a specialty.  Mine was being the sniper.  Johnny had knife skills and not the sort that was used in a kitchen.  Freddie, explosives, Bill, well, you just left Bill alone because he had a grudge against the world and everyone in it.

The Colonel used to say we were all handpicked, but that wasn’t necessarily the case.  I knew for a fact some of the team came straight out of the stockade before their time was up.

Because some of us were expendable.

The thing was; none of us cared.  For those who were ‘rescued’, it was better out in the jungle, dodging bullets, than being inside, your fate left in the hands of the Gods. 

I knew how it was.  I’d been there once or twice myself.

This morning had started the same as many others.  Rise and shine, a breakfast of sorts, into the chopper, and after an hour or so, dropping into a grassy patch, with nothing but jungle in every direction.  Our mission was to find and liberate a number of our people who had gone missing, read captured, on the border between Cambodia and Vietnam.  It was a familiar country because I had, over the last year or so, gone hunting missing POW’s in the area.  Old prisons had been converted into drug laboratories, and we’d broken up a few of those too.

The noise of the chopper put paid to any sort of stealthy approach and, by the time it dropped us off, if there was anyone nearby, our advantage, if we ever had one, was gone.  The trouble was, to cover the same distance by foot would take a week, and, by the time we arrived, if we arrived, more than half the team would be dead.  We may have been good, but we were not that good.  It was not our home turf.

It was hot, sticky, and nothing like home.  There wasn’t a day that passed when I thought to myself it was getting harder and harder to remember when I wasn’t constantly hot and sweaty, nor as frightened.  It happened that way, towards the end of a tour.

Once on the ground, every man was on full alert.  We changed the lead and tail end constantly, to make sure we didn’t lose anyone.  And it was hard going, the constant heat, sweat, punctuated with slight relief when it rained.

Then as quickly as it came, it went, leaving you wet then sticky.

And if that wasn’t enough to contend with, there was the enemy.   You couldn’t see them, nor hear them yet you had the feeling he was watching you the whole time, and it made your skin crawl.

Sometimes the enemy attacked when we had to camp, invisibly swooping, shooting from the trees, and firing a mortar or two, then disappearing back into the luminous greenery without a trace.  These were the remnants of the Viet Cong, Cambodian armed forces, disaffected Laotians, or the Chinese, or so we believed, but they were well-trained mercenaries and just the sort of people the drug cartels would use.

And surviving the operation, any operation, was like playing Russian roulette.  Was it your turn this time, or someone else’s?  You could be walking along, straining your eyes and ears, and next minute, find the man who was covering your back, dead.  Booby traps were silent and swift.  Landmines are loud and very messy.  Both hangovers from the war, and never cleaned up.  People you’d meet, you never knew whose side they were on, so it was best to avoid all contact.

© Charles Heath 2015-2023

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