Thursday, June 24, 2021

No more a new guy

Tom Phillips lost most of his new-guy status his fifth day in-country, his first day in the bush, when an NVA soldier jumped out from behind a tree. Tom was walking second, behind Brando. The NVA soldier waited until Brando walked past, and then he jumped up. Tom put two loads of double-ought buckshot into the man, the first shot taking away most of the man’s face, the second tearing through his chest as the NVA spun from the force of the first shot. 

After killing the NVA, Tom jacked another round into his shotgun, at the same time stepping behind a tree. He knew better than to fall to the ground. He had heard stories of men who did that and impaled themselves on pieces of sharpened bamboo buried in the ground. Tom knelt behind the tree, glancing right and left and ahead. Brando also knelt beside a tree. He shot a look back, then scanned the jungle.

Bull’s voice cut through the silence. “Talk to me, Tom.”

Tom glanced at the body. Smoke from the two expended rounds hung in the air. “Gook jumped up,” he said. His nostrils crinkled from the smell of gunpowder.

“You okay?”

Tom knew there was more to the question than concern for his physical safety. “Roger that.”

“I’m coming up,” Bull said.

“You’re covered.” Tom glanced back. Bull moved cautiously, bent at the waist, eyes moving from side to side. When joining Tom, Bull glanced at the body, then lit a cigarette. “What happened?”

“He jumped up,” Tom said.

“Brando,” Bull called.

“Looks okay up here.”

Placing a hand on Tom’s shoulder, Bull said, “I’ll get the rest up and out. Stay here.” Tom nodded.

Within ten seconds, A Team moved past Tom and the body and fanned out on each side of Brando.

Bull rejoined Tom. “LT’s moving up. Let’s have a look.”

Tom stood, pulling a canteen from its cover. He took a small sip of water. “Okay.”

They stood over the body. Bull nudged the dead man’s ribs with the toe of his boot. “Fucker looks seriously dead.” He stared at Tom. “He jumped up, huh.”

“From behind that tree.”

Bull nodded. “Buckshot does the job every time.”

Tom stared at the body. “He must’ve been scared shitless when Brando walked past him.” The NVA wore a faded green uniform and rubber-soled sandals. His hair was black and long. Flies gathered on his face and chest, feeding on the blood. Turning to Bull, Tom said, “I guess we better search him.”

“Yeah,” Bull said. “You want me to do it?”

Tom shrugged. “Nah. I got it.”

The LT came up, kneeling as Tom went through the NVA’s pockets. “Got anything?”

“Beats me, sir,” Tom said. He rolled the man onto his stomach, then pulled backpack straps from the dead man’s arms. “A couple of letters, maybe a diary,” Tom said as he opened pockets on the backpack. “Family pictures.” He took the top from a metal cigarette tin. “Maybe some dope. Looks sort of like tobacco, but different.” He sniffed the can. “Smells like new-mown hay. Cut too rough to be tobacco.”

“Where’s his weapon?”

Tom pointed. “There. SKS, I think.”

The LT reached across the body and picked up the rifle. “That’s what it is. Most of them around here carry AK’s.” He opened the bottom of the magazine and caught the nine rounds there, then pulled back the bolt handle, ejecting the round from the chamber. “He kept it clean. Any clips on him?”

“Eight,” Tom said.

The LT opened the NVA’s back pack and dropped the cartridges inside. He handed the rifle to Tom. “You want it?”

“Don’t we have to turn it in to S-2?”

“I’ll take care of that.”

Tom held the rifle. “Okay.” He smiled. “I guess I get to carry it until we go back in.”

“No gun bearers out here,” the LT said, smiling. He stood. “I’ll check with Sergeant Reid. He’s calling in a report.” He slapped Tom’s shoulder. “Good job.” He smiled. “You get to carry the backpack, too."  

Tom glanced down at the NVA as the LT walked away. The man’s face was a mass of red pulp -- no nose or eyes, lips and front teeth shot away. Tom took his canteen from its holder and drank a long swallow, then slung the SKS and backpack over his left shoulder. He walked forward, joining the rest of the squad.







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