Saturday, November 16, 2013

After the fight

I stayed awake the rest of the night. Most of the time, anyway. Couple of times I came awake with my head resting against the handles on the .50-caliber. I was exhausted, and the rest of the guys were too. When the sun threatened to come up, I fixed myself a cup of coffee, pouring a packet of instant from a C-ration pack into my canteen cup, then adding water from my canteen. I stirred it with a pencil. Leander said, "Man, you gonna drink that stuff? Like that?" I said, "I'd eat it if I didn't have any water." Cold instant coffee tastes terrible, but at five in the morning, taste doesn't matter as much as getting some caffeine into the system.

My father knew two men from back home, brothers, who were in a machine gun squad on New Guinea in 1942. They were cut off for three days, behind the Japanese lines, and all they had for food was a two-pound can of coffee. Daddy said the brothers told him they ate the coffee.

By the time I finished half my cold coffee, the sun was up enough so showing a light wouldn't matter. I lit a cigarette. It was good. A voice sounded in my earpieces. "Foxtrot Three-Three Yankee, this is Foxtrot Three-Three Zulu, over." I looked up, glancing at Bart, two tracks to my left. He waved. I answered his call. Bart said: "Three-Three Yankee, this night will go down in history as a real Charlie Foxtrot."

I laughed and answered, "You got that right."

A voice from the command track cut in. "All Foxtrot stations, this is Foxtrot Six Bravo. Cut the chatter. Out."

The radio speaker was on, and my crew heard the transmissions. Leander snorted. "Man sounds like he means business."

The sun broke loose from the night. Staff Sergeant Reid came up behind my track. I took off my CVC helmet. "Danny,” Reid called. “You and Bart take one man each from your tracks and sweep our front."

I nodded. "Roger that. Leander, take the gun. Will, get your stuff on." I left the TC hatch, taking my steel pot from its place and my rifle from the top deck. Wilson and I joined Reid at the bottom of the ramp. Reid handed me a PRC-25 backpack radio.

"Go in about twenty meters, then cut left," Reid said.

I lit a cigarette and nodded. "There's three gooks in front of the track."

Reid stepped to the side of the track and looked at the three small humps in the clearing. "That one's kinda close."

"Yeah," I said. "He don't have a head though."

Reid stared at my face. I looked at the ground. "Good shooting," he said. "Next time, try to get 'em a little farther out."

I took a last drag on the cigarette. "Next time, I want 'em so far out we'll have to call in B-52s."

My three gooks were the only bodies we found. There was blood in the jungle grass and on a few bushes, but nothing else. We found where the gooks crawled in, mashing the grass flat.

"About ten on this side, I'd guess," Bart said. We stood near a flattened area.

"'Bout that," I said.

Wilson and Thompson studied the grass. Thompson was one of Bart's gunners. Wilson said, "How you figure ten?"

Bart grinned. "You never hunted much, did you. Back in the World." Wilson shook his head, and Bart said: "Well, Danny and me, we go back a ways. Grunts. They teach us in grunt school how to swag."

Thompson laughed, but Wilson looked confused. "Swag?"

"Don't you know nothin, Home?” Thompson said. "Scientific wild-ass guess. Swag." He grinned at Bart. "You all right. For a sergeant."

"Yeah," Bart said. "That's what all the women tell me."

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