Denying the Enemy Ground


Larry Williams



On that particular morning I crept along and kept my eyes darting left to right, then up and down the way I’d been trained to do it. This quasi-evacuated, Vietnamese village had plenty of good places to hide in and we’d had trouble here before, so the whole patrol was acting skittish. Not good.

            Our mission was simple: Give Battalion its body count and deny the enemy ground. The platoon sergeant had ordered us outside the wire in the cool, predawn shadows with his finger pointed, his teeth gritted. “I want results. I want numbers today, Marines.” 

            All I wanted was to get this search done and get out alive. No heroics.

            Now, with the sun high and sizzling, my M-16 was on safe, but I thumbed the selector switch, fidgeting, and held my sweaty finger on the trigger. I had a full twenty round magazine and could go automatic in a flick.

            To my right flank something moved in a blur and tripped out of a hootch kicking some flat baskets over and spilling rice onto the deck. Behind me a new guy let off a three-round burst. BUTTA-DOW!

            I spun around ready to rock and roll.

            A white-haired man dropped face down and thumped on the hard-packed earth. A sort of two count movement: knees, face. Three blood splotches expanded across his back the way a pool ripples when you toss in a stone.

            The new guy stood over the body, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, licking his lips and breathing heavily. Smoke swirled from his rifle barrel.

            “What the fuck,” a squad leader yelled. He dashed back toward us. When he got close enough he stopped and looked around.

            “Wad ya do that for? That gook wadn’t doin nothin, man. You stupid shit. Ever heard of prisoners?”

            “Ain’t supposed to be here,” the new guy said. “Fuckin slope couldda been doin anything. Whatta you expect?”

            The new guy leaned forward and prodded the body with his weapon. No movement. He was dead all right. Life is short around new guys.

            “You dumb shit.” The squad leader said. He barked forward, “We’re all clear back here.” He said to the new guy, “I don’t see no weapon, neither. Now you’ll have to give a report, you shit-bird.”

            “So what, man? We got a kill. So what?”

            The squad leader hustled up the column shouting for the radioman. He’d have to get on the horn and explain this right away.

            “You’d better search him,” I said to the new guy.

            “Search him?”

            “You gotta,” I said.

            The new guy looked like I’d asked him to stick his hands in a shit barrel. His chest still heaved. He licked his lips the way nervous people wring their hands.

            “Take a drink of water,” I said, “and search that fucker.”

            The new guy guzzled from his canteen. His hands trembled like he’d been lifting weights or something. Over-stimulated, I guessed.

            “It’s okay you shot him,” I said, lowering my voice. I stared him in the eye. “We’ll likely get an extra beer ration for it. Thanks for covering my ass.”

            I don’t know why I said that. Maybe because I knew how he felt. Or, perhaps because he’d patrol behind me the rest of the day and I didn’t want him acting too goofy. Probably both.

            My Cajun buddy, Duchamp, rushed up then from the rear to see what all the commotion was. He hollered at me as he approached. “Hey, Will! Who killed that gook?” His voice trailed off and his gait slowed when he saw the body heaped in the dirt, the new guy patting it down.

            I shrugged and turned away, annoyed as hell. I rubbed sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand. I wished he’d asked me what had happened. I could’ve told him that. But no way could I answer his question; not even if I’d known the new guy’s name.  

©2009 Larry Williams

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