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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Indian - A Story of Viet Nam {#BlogBattle}

It's high time to return to #BlogBattle, the weekly short-fiction writing challenge hosted by Rachael Ritchey.

I've been away too long.

The keyword this week is INDIAN, so on to the imaginatively titled...

The Indian

It was the first day of another stretch of penance at Con Thien, pulling security for the One-Nine with Ship of Fools and the New Guy Tank. The section we'd relieved was happily running back to Oceanview, leaving joyous roostertails of red dirt.

No one wanted to spend time at Con Thien, "The Place Where Angels Dwell", because the chances of actually joining the angels was far too high.

A Marine was walking toward us. In contrast to the ragged and dusty guys of the Dead who were nearing the end of their rotation at Con Thien, this fellow's utilities were clean and vividly green.

"It's a lieutenant," said The Dude, watching the Marine.

"Uh, oh." Biff lowered his eyes. "Does he have a map?"


"We're doomed." He dropped down into the loader's hatch, and then looked at me. "TC, if you need me, I'm writing a letter to my mom to start singing kaddish."

The FNG lieutenant was walking inexorably toward us. He waved, and with a smile, called, "Yoo hoo!"

Sonny asked, "Do y'all thank if ah shoot him he'll go away?"

"Worth a try, but they'll just send another one," replied The Dude. "The Corps has an inexhaustible supply."

Sonny shook his head. "Wahl, ah'm sher exhuastin."

"Yes, we can smell that."

Sonny looked puzzled, and then decided that he was being offered sympathy in his fatigue. "Wahl, Dude, thank y'all"

The Dude said, "You're most welcome, Sonny." Then he called out to the approaching officer, "Hi!", and beamed a bright smile.\

"Hi," said the lieutenant. "Can I, uh, have a minute?" The name "CHEE" was crisp on his blouse. His face was round and smooth, and his dark eyes happy.

The Dude nodded toward me, and I said, "Sure, sir."

He was just a kid, really. Four months ago he was probably wearing a cap and gown, graduating from college, getting Polaroids taken by his parents and his girl. I couldn't me angry with him for being an FNG officer of the most dangerous kind...one with a map.

"We've been fragged to go into the Z tomorrow...I Crops thinks they've been moving tube artillery in...here..." He held up the map, and The Dude took it from him.

"Sounds fun," I said. We hadn't received the frag, so we weren't going.

"Yeah. Well." He took off his helmet, and looked like a high-schooler. "We had our scout go out last night...he saw sign...lots of sign..."

"Um," I said.

"And I was wondering..."

"If we could come along, and be your muscle?"

"Yes." He looked down, and kicked at the dirt. Dear God, if he continued to look younger he'd need diapers.

"We don't have orders," I temporized. "Who's going out?"


That was good news.  The Walking Dead's first herd simply refused to allow themselves to be killed, and their CO, Captain Goldman, was one of the best (and one of the very few Jewish Marine officers). "Well, you'll be in with some good guys. " I wanted this fellow to be at ease. We really couldn't go.

"Yes, they are," Lieutenant Chee kicked the dirt again. "I'm honoured to be leading them."

His formal tone threw me at first.  The Dude found his voice first.

"Wait one, ell-tee...you're..."

Chee looked up, and suddenly looked older than the dirt around us. "I guess you didn't hear. We got hit...I'm the only officer left."

"Dear God," said Sonnt, without the slightest accent.

"They can't send you out like that...son," I said. "They just can't."

Lt. Chee overlooked the familiarity. He may have welcomed it. "Well, they did. I've got good NCOs, the best...but I was just hoping..."

The Dude decided for me. "When?"

""Zero-six-hundred...we've got a med track and an engineer track...but could you organize the line of march?"

"Sure. Two platoons up, engineer track, med track, us, two platoons trail." We'd leave the New Guy Tank inside the wire, since we couldn't completely strip Con Thien.

Chee sighed. "Thank you," he said simply. He turned to go.

The Dude called after him, "What clans?"

The lieutenant turned, smiling. "Born to Red House, born for Smooth Water."


And so the next morning we moved off into the Z, a sparse snaking column of men bookending two APCs and a tank. The Z was more like Northern California than the tropics, and we passed through grassy hills under the mottled sun of the coming monsoon.

And it was terrifying, because there was sign everywhere. This was not Charlie; this was Sir Charles, the NVA.

The point platoon, moved with exaggerated caution. They were the hollow-cheeked veterans of what no young men should have to endure, but they took step after step into a next minute that could be their last.

The young lieutenant was facing a steep learning curve, but when I could see him, he was scaling it quickly. He had exchanged his stateside-new uniform for someone's castoffs, and he wore no badge of rank. He mimicked the walk of his experienced me, and I felt a warm glow of affection, seeing a Marine officer growing up before my eyes.

And then the sniper got him.

The one thing Lt. Chee couldn't control was having his RTO nearby, and the aerial drew the round. Chee was hit in the shoulder, and his guys helped him to the med track.

When he was bandaged, he insisted on standing in the commander's hatch, dressing a flag of defiance. The kid had guts.

We trailed along, slowly, slowly, at a walking pace, The Dude's foot gentle on the throttle, through a landscape that for all its California charm radiated menace.

They were out there.

Biff swung the turret from side to side, covering both flanks the best he could, and Sonny stood in the loader's hatch, next to me, with an M-16 pulled into his shoulder. "TC?" he said.


"Is we thar yit?"

"Ah...I wish."

The Dude broke in, "Eyes up left, TC, ten o'clock. Something's wrong. One-fifty meters out."

Sonny swung his rifle, and I put my binos to my eyes. "What did you..."

CRAAACK! The M-16 went off, and Sonny yelled, "Rocket team, ten o'clock, I'm jammed!"

The main gun was pointing to the right of the line of march, and biff started swinging it back.

"Traverse traverse traverse, target rocket team ten, now nine-thirty...!" I yelled. I could see the two-man B-40 team, rising from a spider hole.

"I'll be on 'em in a second, TC," Biff said. "Cannister up."

BOOM! A rocket snaked out and hit the APC in front of us. The med track ground to a halt, transmission moaning.

"Biff, get that gun on him!"

The main gun swung down to engage, and then stopped. "Elevation's jammed, TC, switching to coax."

The thirty started barking as the rocket team reloaded. I could see them reloading, and occasionally they looked at us, even though fire from the point platoons was sweeping over their hole. They seemed fascinated.

And then thirty stopped. "Coax is down," and I could hear the frustration in Biff's voice.

Sonny had drawn his .45, and was popping away. The Dude gunned the engine, looking to squash rocket man and his loader.

We weren't going to make it. The reload was done, and the rocketeer, with one disdainful look toward the oncoming Ship of Fools, took careful aim at the med track. He was going to die, but he'd have a sure kill.

And then a figure with a whitely-bandaged shoulder leapy to the ground, and sprinted at the B-40 team.

The NVA loader stood up, and emptied a magazine at Lt. Chee. I saw the bullets pass through this fine young man, kicking dust from the exit wounds in his back.

But he kept on, stumbling now, and in one hand I could see a grenade. It was smoking, the fuse lit.

"Throw it, man!" yelled Sonny.

He didn't Lt. Chee, born to Red House, born for Smooth water, took a last despairing leap, arm holding the grenade outstretched, just as the rocketeer triggered the B-40, and landed between the two NVA.

It looked like the most profane of touchdowns, and the grenade exploded, and the projectile sailed harmlessly over the crippled med track.

The Dude braked out tank to a halt, and we could see the bodies.

Lt. Chee was lying on his side, and he had turned his face away at the last moment. It was unscarred, and he looked very young again.

A child, asleep.

"Good night, akis," said The Dude over the IC, softly. "Good night, friend."


  1. My mother worked for the air force as a civilian and had airmen friends. Some of them told us California (near San Francisco) looked just like Korea.

    1. It's strange, Jan, how some places simply don't look like we imagine they will...parts of Viet Nam look eerily like upstate New York (of all places).

      And parts of Laos look like nowhere else on Earth. The karst topography is just unique.

      Thanks so much for being here!

  2. You are such a great storyteller, friend! I wanted to let you know that I nominated you for a blogging award. I understand if you are unable to participate. Been thinking of you lots. You can read my nomination post here: http://prayingontheprairie.blogspot.com/2016/01/its-award-season.html

    1. Tara, thank you so much!

      I'm in rough shape at the moment, but will do my best to live up to your nomination...thank you!

  3. Andrew - Love your Nam stories and was glad to see one again. But this one was tough man, very tough.

    1. I missed writing them for awhile, but I was just too ill.

      This was one that needed to be told...as it was true. Very minor details have been changed, but anyone who was there will recognize it.

      So glad you are here!

  4. Riveting story. I held my coffee in mid-air afraid to miss a beat while I read. Outstanding action. The tension thick as jungle heat. Wow!

    1. Teresa, thank you so much! I truly appreciate your taking the time to read, and the warmth of your comment.

  5. oh, Andrew, the Dude and all the rest. I just admire these men so much. I Admire You.

    1. Rachael, it is I who thank you...in hosting #Blogbattle, you've created a medium through which I was able to tell their story.

      I admire you right back!

  6. Very touching. A beautiful tale of sacrifice.