In honour of #BlogBattle's one-year anniversary, the word is YEAR.
A Life In A Year
The sun had dropped behind the clouds massing over the hills to the west, and the temperature seemed to drop by twenty degrees. For Viet Nam, it was downright pleasant.
The Dude and I were greasing the bogies, a never-ending job, when there was a voice in the dusk. "I hear that you will be needing a loader."
Biff was in the cupola, standing radio watch, and his voice came back. "For a while, anyway. Ours is in the BAS. But he'll be coming back."
"Yes. I talked to him, actually. he suggested I drop by, to see if I could help out." The voice was precise and almost formal, and The Dude and I got up and came around the tank, curious.
A recruiting-poster Marine stood there, at parade rest. He was short, about five-six, and stocky, and his face was the colour of sun-warmed mahogany. The greens he wore were spotless, and while his helmet wasn't polished, it was clean. He smiled at me, and nodded. "Sergeant?"
"Yeah." I wiped my hands on my coveralls, and hesitantly put my right hand out to shake his.
"My dame is Dalton," he said. I could have figured that out; his namepatch was crisp and legible. He wore the stripes of a buck sergeant.
"Well, hi You armor?" The Corps sometimes sent grunt to do temp work in tanks, and that was bad policy. We had to take him, but I wanted to know how much training we'd need to do.
"I was supposed to be, first tour. But when they got me here they put me in a line company."
This was good; a second-tour man. I liked Dalton already, except that he was so shiny.
The Dude asked him, "Where?"
"Khe Sanh." He shifted his weight, and winced, then took a halting, limping step. "Sorry."
The Dude raised his eyebrows, and said, "Ummm..."
Dalton smiled again, andI had a feeling that I knew what his nickname would be. "Don't worry." He patted his right leg. "There's a bit of metal in here, but I can get around."
And with that he swiftly moved past us, but a clean boot on a grimy roadwheel, and swung himself up onto the fender. The he handed his helmet to Biff (who took it gingerly, not wanting to dirty it), and dropped through the loader's hatch.
"See?" came his voice from the depths of the turret.
The Dude looked at me and shook his head. "He's one jump ahead of us, TC."
Dalton popped his head out. "Do I get the job?"
Biff said, apropos nothing, "I'm Jewish."
Dalton turned to him. "Well, I'm a baptist lay preacher. Mind if I try to save you?"
"Oh, I like this guy," said The Dude. The, to Dalton, "Good luck with that. Biff's going to be a rabbi."
Dalton took his helmet back from our gunner, and patted Biff on the shoulder. "Good times."
"Ok, Smiley," I said. "You're on. I'll go get the paperwork cut."
"No need," said Dalton. "I was shining a chair over at HQ, clerking" He suddenly looked sheepish. "I, uh, already put in the orders."
Well, it was nice to be wanted.
After drawing a CVC and coveralls, Dalton returned to break bread with us.
The Dude held out some C's. "Franks and beans," he said, "or ham and mu..."
Our new loader quickly grabbed the franks. "Something edible, please." Ham and lima beans, more commonly known by another name, had the consistency and smell of something found in the diaper of a baby.
"So, Smiley," I said, "what's your story?"
"Sure...uh, first, why Smiley?" And he smiled. "Oh," he said.
"Well, we can't very well keep calling you Dalton."
"How about Sergeant?"
"There is no rank," said The Dude," in our tank."
"It's my name, actually. Sergeant Benedict Dalton."
Biff asked, "Did your parents not like you?"
Smiley's smile faded. "My mother loves me very much. She named me after my dad. he was an amtrac driver at iwo Jima. He died there. I never knew him."
The Dude whistled. "You're a walking piece of Marine Corps history." The black amtrackers at Iwo were the Corp's first coloured combat troops, and had a reputation for lionhearted courage.
Smiley looked down. "That he was a sergeant...that was a big thing in our family. He got the bronze star. Posthumously."
"Wow." The Dude was genuinely impressed, and passed the man a Millers, "To his honour."
Smiley shook his head. "Thanks, but I don't drink."
"So," I said. "What about you?"
"Me. Well." Smiley looked around at us. "Well, after I got a divinity degree, I felt that I had to do my father proud. So I enlisted. Went to the Iron Horse,"
"Uh, oh," said The Dude. "Lejeune Marine. We're all Pendeltonites here."
"Not me," said Biff. "I did boot in the swamp."
"I keep forgetting," said The Dude. "I keep thinking you're really human."
Biff made a surprisingly rude remark, and Smiley laughed. Then he went on. "I was supposed to be in the armour replacement pool for first tanks, but...well, when I got here i went to the one-three as a rifleman. And I got nailed."
"Ouch," said Biff.
"It was my ticket home. I felt bad about that, really. But I wouldn't ever walk without a limp, and who needs a limping Marine? I was out on disability."
"We do, apparently," observed The Dude.
"So I went home. Back to Detroit. Wore my dress blues from the bus station, walking home. That was a mistake." Smiley looked down again, and shook his head. "Big mistake."
We gave him the space to collect himself.
"See, my little brother...my mom remarried...he was in college, and he got involved with the protests. He kind of organized a welcome-home for me, but when I showed up in uniform...well, he expected me to resent having been shot fighting for The Man. So he called me a baby-killer. To my face. In front of my mother. Called me an oreo cookie."
"Oh, dear," said Biff.
"And I broke his jaw."
'Welcome home," said The Dude, softly.
"Yes. Well, I went to the recruiter the next day, and said I wanted back in. He said, look, you've done your bit...and you'll never pass a medical board."
" I was wondering about that," I said.
"So I asked him, do I really have to do a board? He made a phone call...told someone he had a crazy gimp who just got back from the Nam, and wanted to return, and was there any way we could oblige?"
"And a week later I was here. See, back in The World I would have had to go to a board, but if I raised my right hand and got on a plane...once I got here, no one would care."
The Dude laughed, bitterly but not without humour. "As long as you can shoot you can fight."
"My mom asked me what I was fighting for," Smiley went on. "I couldn't tell her, at the time. I just knew I had to get out of there. I had to come back. But now I think I know."
"So," asked The Dude, "why?"
"Because I have to live for the same thing my daddy died for."
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