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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Pure Warrior - A Story of Viet Nam {#BlogBattle}

Time for this week's #BlogBattle, the weekly flash-fiction contest hosted by Rachael Ritchey

This week's keyword is Pure.

The Pure Warrior

Con Thien was the last place you'd expect to find one.

Another sweep into the Z, and this didn't look like a good one. The NVA was building their strength, and from the amount of mortaring we were getting, they had a lot of toys to play with.

We were going out with The Dead, once again, to try to whittle them down. We and the New Guy Tank and a company of riflemen.

No tracks. The last APCs that got sent out didn't come back, and neither did the dismounts they were carrying. Mr. Charles had a lot of RPGs, too.

So it was going to be a slow couple of days...walking pace, laager up for a night, stroll back.

The night before pushoff, there was a voice from the darkness. "Hey, tankers...got a minute?

Sonny was eyeballs up in the TC cupola, on radio watch, while The Dude, Biff and I were trying to catch a bit of sleep under the tank, but none of us were sleeping. One of our insomniac mortar crews was keeping up a steady stream of illume, keeping the bad places beyond the perimeter lit in an eerie full-contrast tableau.

"Sure," I said.

"Well, where are...oh, down there." The oldest Marine I ever saw squatted down under the glacis. The flarelight deepened the creases in his face, and his eyes were nearly lost in a web of crows'-feet. The skin on his hands was liver-spotted, and he had the rough voice of a lifetime smoker. "How you doin', guys?"

"We're here," I said.

"Yeah. Us, too."

I looked closer, and realized that we were talking with the Dead's sergeant major. He'd been through The Canal, and Tarawa, and he was said to have a lot of Japanese metal in him.

"What can we do for you, sar'nt major?" asked The Dude.

The old man took a knee. "Guys, tomorrow's going to be kind of bad."

"So we gathered," replied The Dude. "Worse than bad?"

The sergeant major nodded. "Way worse."

Biff's voice had a quaver in it. "Ho much, sir?"

You don't call an NCO 'sir', not even a sergeant major; unlike officers, they work for a living. But the old Marine smiled. "How old are you, son?"

"Nineteen, sir."

"You're the gunner, right?"


"Well, tell you what...you keep Mr. Charles' head down for us, and we'll keep the rockets away from you, and you'll be able to turn twenty. My word. Deal?" The sergeant major put out his hand.



As the old Marine walked away, Biff was crying softly.


We ran into heavy contact just two miles into the Z, climbing a gentle grassy slope to a crown that was lined with brush. 

The NVA were disciplined. They let the point platoon walk into a fire sack, and cut them to ribbons. As I dropped into eyeball defilade n the cupola I saw the men fall, either dropped by bullets or hitting the ground in desperation. It was hard to tell which, but in seconds they were all down in the grass.

I yelled into the radio to the New Guy Tank, "Up on line! Now!"

The Good Ship Lollipop surged forward, level with us, fifty yards to our left, and New Guy TC was down in his cupola, just his eyes showing. Just like me. The urge to self-preservation was turning him into a veteran.

A very heavy weight of fire was coming in, pinging off the armor, and volleys of rockets wooshed past, leaving snaky white trails in the air. The noise was intimately physical, an oppressive crackling roar whose small variations made it seem like an evil living thing.

"Biff, unload the tube and put some willie pete in their faces!" We couldn't fire cannister because the point platoon was in the way. Blinding Mr. Charles with fire and smoke was the best we could do. "And get on the coax!"

The tube elevated and boomed, launching the cannister it carried harmlessly into wherever, and then the breech clunked as Sonny slammed in a willie pete.

BOOM!, and a bloom of white smoke appeared in the scrub-line where the heaviest fire was coming from.


New Guy TC had the same idea, and a line of white smoke started reaching to join ours. We were doing OK. The trailing platoons flanked us, and were getting ready to move forward to try to get the point guys back.


A bullet hit the hatch just behind my head, and snapped down into the turret, an angry ricocheting wasp. Sonny cried out, then swore...and I could smell blood.

"Biff, ah cain't load, ah'm hit!"

The smoke-line was incomplete, and we'd just been defanged.

Sonny yelled into the intercom again, "No, ah kin hold it, y'all keep on that coax!"

Biif had apparently tried to go to Sonny's aid. Waved off, he started sending 30-cal downrange.

But it was too late. Mr. Charles still had a good base of fire with a couple of heavy MGs and rockets, and his manuever elements pushed forward to hug the point platoon. If they could get close enough we couldn't even hit them with the coax. We were in trouble.

The old sergeant major was with the point guys, and rose to a crouch, firing a sixty from the shoulder, the ammo belt trailing in the grass. There was a steady bright shower of links and cases dropping around him, and the guys who could still move started falling back.

But he could only engage one group of VC, and just as I was about to tell Biff to traverse and nail the others, he shouted, "Barrel's gone!", and I saw tracer spraying wildly, the rifling in the coax's barrel melted away.

It's coming unglued.

I got on the radio, "Lollipop, engage those guys!"

His head popped up a little higher, turned toward me, and I pointed. Then I recoiled in horror.


My shout went unheeded, as New Guy TC climbed out of the turret, cocked the fifty on the sky mount, and, standing in the tank's deck in a rain of gunfire, started shooting. I could see the big Ma Deuce jumping with its peculiar rhythm, a heartbeat of death.

But it was working. That crew couldn't hit much with the main gun, but the green-clad NVA were being literally knocked off their feet by the big slugs. The kid was born to shoot a machine gun.

The sergeant major had gone through a full belt, and dropped down to reload. He rose again, slapping the cover of the feed-tray shut, and then staggered backwards. I could see a gust of blood come from his back.

Oh, no.

I said, "Biff, radio!" and climbed out to unlimber our fifty, and bring it into the fight. We'd just gone from good to bad again.

It was the most frightening thing I ever did. I could feel and hear the bullets snap past, and as Biff took my place in the cupola, he looked back at me with wide eyes. Then he closed them.

I could see the sergeant major trying to get the sixty up again, and he fell backwards, a loop of ammo belt coiling across his chest.

There was a blur of movement from Lollipop, and I saw New Guy TC leap off the glacis, pistol in hand, and run toward the fallen NCO, crossing at an angle in front of us.

Oh, God, no.

His tank started inching forward to give him cover, and I felt Ship of Fools start moving too; Biff was guiding The Dude in support.

New Guy TC reached the sergeant major, and emptied his pistol at the NVA. A bullet must have grazed his head, because he spun around, almost fell, and then knelt next to the wounded man, put in a new mag, and kept shooting.

And then he pulled the old Marine onto his shoulders, and walked slowly, bullets scything the grass at his feet, toward our tank.. The Dude jockeyed us around him, to provide cover, and Biff jumped out of the turret to help me pull the wounded man onto the rear deck, to lay him on the hot engine cover.

I extended my hand to New Guy TC to pull him aboard, but he shook his head. His CVC helmet had been wrecked by the bullet that hit him, and in a gesture of annoyance he pulled it off and threw it to me. "It's busted!" he yelled, and then ran back to his own tank.


Mr. Charles apparently watched the kid's performance and decided that we were now fielding lunatics, for his fire slacked off, and he melted away into the scrub of the Z. We were able to set up a perimeter and bring in dustoff to take away the wounded and the dead, and then we crawled back across the line.

Sonny refused the helicopter ride. The ricochet has made a mess of his right bicep, but he wouldn't even take morphine until we got back to Con Thien.

I wanted some morphine, just looking at him.

Back inside the wire, as soon as we parked I ran over to Lollipop, carrying New Guy TC's discarded helmet, The Dude following.

New Guy TC looked at me quizzically.

"You forgot something," I said, holding up the shattered remains.

"Oh," he said. He climbed out of the cupola, and I could see his legs shaking.

The Dude climbed onto the deck, and caught the boy by the shoulder. "Hey, easy."

"Thanks. I don't feel so good."

His crew got out, too. The loader and gunner perched on the turret, and Timex stood on the fender, rubbing his jaw.

The Dude said, "I guess you saw To Hell And Back one too many times."

New Guy TC looked up at him, and then around at all all of us.

"Yeah," he said. "But Audie Murphy was Army. We're Marines."

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  1. War is like nothing I've ever known, Andrew. You always paint a gruesome and vivid picture for us. I can't imagine how anyone would have survived that kind of place and experience. But then, perhaps you didn't, even as you live to tell us all about it.

    I'm sorry that you're not doing well today. You are in my prayers and thoughts, my friend!

  2. War is really ugly. I really hope the war in the world would stop soon. I still hope to see it end in my lifetime.

  3. Excellent tale. War may be ugly, but the courage was beautiful. That's always what shines out in your stories.