The noise in the auditorium began to transform into the wild jungle sounds Dan had learned to read so well: he loved those sounds. If the birds and creepy crawlies were singing their varied tunes, you can bet no one was sneaking up on you.
This was not the case on August 3rd, 1970. The trio was dug in atop hill three-forty-two. It had no real importance. Not many of them did. At dawn the creature sounds had resumed their usual symphonies. By noon, the silence told them they were not alone.
The three of them had been in ‘Nam just over six-months. Mad Dog was a Sergeant. Rev and Dan were Corporals. One thought was unanimous between them: It is nothing like we thought it would be! Fantasies of being the next John Wayne and Audie Murphy rolled up into one were exorcised out of them when the surrealistic reality of a war their government didn’t really want to win still chewed the hell out of the flesh and bone of many they knew: fathers, sons, and brothers.
Today found Rev and Dan teamed in a foxhole. The M-60 machine gun mounted on its tripod to Dan’s front. He leaned against it while he scanned. Rev kept his M-16 trained on the perimeter as well. One usually rests while the other one watches, but not now. The silence was deafening. They strained to hear something besides their own breathing — nothing was heard.
As Dan stood in the foxhole next to his pal, he realized: Rev is the only one who hasn’t changed. Mad Dog drinks like a fish, I’m scared all the time, but Rev appears unshaken. He still prays, talks about Jesus, and sips soft drinks while reading the Bible. And he’s the best point-man in the outfit.
Birds began a chorus thirty meters to the front. They both gave a sigh of relief. And as Dan wiped his brow, he noticed it was twilight. Where had the time gone?
“Go ahead and eat,” Rev said, breaking the silence.
“It’s my watch, remember?”
“Don’t you think I’ve got enough fruit of the spirit to sustain me until you finish?” he said with mock piety.
Though it was said in jest, Dan found comfort in it. Not the words themselves, but the underlying confidence he has in his belief. So Dan grabbed the first can of C-rations near him. It no longer mattered what type they were. After six-months, they’re all hard to stomach.
Good ol’ beans and franks. Whoopie! It amazes me that Mad Dog can still scarf down five of these in one sitting.
Rev continued to peer outward, though he now held his Bible, and something inside Dan began to stir: though he was not sure why. Perhaps the fact that Rev could still smile had something to do with it. You don’t see much of that in ‘Nam.
“Yeah, Bro?” he said, continuing surveillance.
“Are you honestly comforted by all that stuff you believe?”
“There’s something I’ve never told you or Mad Dog. When you follow God’s word, and accept Jesus as your personal savior, you receive the Holy Spirit as well. That Spirit guides you down God’s chosen path for your life.” As darkness conquered the last rays of light, he uncapped the starlight scope and resumed surveillance before continuing. “Staying as close to God as you possibly can enables the Spirit to communicate better with you, because you’re more receptive at those times. And one day while I was deep in prayer, I was led to enlist.”
“I thought you were drafted and shafted like the rest of us.”
“I volunteered,” he said. “There’s something the Lord wants me to do while I’m in. It has something to do with where we are.”
As Rev continued to talk, Dan found himself attracted to what was being said. Words like Peace, Calmness, and Serenity kept popping up to spark his interest. An eighteen-year-old beach boy should be shooting the curl at Huntington Beach, not shooting the brains out of ninety pound VC in black pajamas. And he should be running down his bikini clad girlfriend, and rolling in the sand off Dana Point, not hunting down gook sympathizers along the Ho Chi Minh trail and cutting their guts out in a rice paddy. Yes, Dan yearned for peace, calmness, and serenity. And he could see them in Rev: It must be real.
“Shhh!” Rev insisted. “The critters have stopped.”
Dan listened — nothing — and caught himself thinking, Oh God, not again! And he re-established his romance with the M-60: cradling it as gently as he would Diane. She has never failed me. And she’s cleaned, oiled, and ready to go — but was I?
Rev traversed the scope along their field of fire. Nothing was visible. Nothing ever was.
Why did I think about Diane? Dan wondered. It only makes the cursed waiting harder. God, will I ever see her again? And the revelation struck him like the jolt of a 50-cal., and he glanced toward Rev. He had re-pocketed his Bible, and was attaching the scope atop the M-16. And war, or no war, he knew it was time.
“How do I get the peace you’ve got?”
Rev redirected his eyes from the scope to Dan. “Are you sure?”
He was never so sure of anything in his life.
At that moment, a noise came from behind. They quickly shifted into position with fingers tensed upon triggers. It was too dark to see, but Rev had the scope. If he fired, so would Dan. But Dan felt him relax, as a whisper cut through the silence — it was Mad Dog.
Rev resumed the watch as Mad Dog eased into the hole.
“I thought you might like a few more of these,” he said while placing four full ammo cans on the floor at the back of the foxhole. “Considering how things look.”
He was right.
“What’s your sit-rep?”
“You know our damn situation report. We’ve been in this foxhole all fucking day, and I’m about to take a dump in my OD’s if Charlie don’t make a move soon,” Dan said.
“Do what you gotta’ do,” Mad Dog said. “But HQ claims it’s a sure thing tonight. I know their SOP is FUBAR, but a missing squad from Delta who were doing some recon appears to support the belief.”
The news was no surprise. However, Rev still thought something else was more important, as he turned to Dan.
“You still sure?”
Dan’s heart said, Yes. But his mind said, Not with Mad Dog here.
Rev discerned his thoughts, and turned to Mad Dog.
“You respect my belief don’t you, Mad Dog?”
“Then you’d respect Danno if he wanted to be a Christian, right?”
Uh oh, here it comes, Dan thought.
“Folks usually do what they have to,” Mad Dog said, his country drawl more pronounced when speaking slow and quiet.
Could it be that he too has thought about it? A train of thought interrupted as Rev touched his shoulder.
Dan could never explain the feeling to anyone that has never felt it, but it just felt right.
“What do I do?”
In that foxhole, in the jungles of Vietnam, Rev led Dan in the sinner’s prayer. And the terrible pain in his gut instantly disappeared. Yes, he still felt fear, but it was controllable, as if someone else was sharing the burden. Rev had been right all along, and Dan smiled for the first time in months.
“Now we’re not just brothers in war, we’re brothers in Christ as well,” Rev said, hugging Dan.
Were those tears on his cheek? Dan wondered.
Rev turned to Mad Dog, who had positioned himself next to his pals, keeping watch while they prayed: “The offer is open to anyone.”
Mad Dog shifted his weight, and Dan felt a chill traverse his spine in anticipation of the reply.
“INCOMING!” someone yelled. And sure enough it was followed by the high pitch whistle shattering the silence, quickly followed by the massive explosions they always bring.
The trio covered up. The ground shook with every concussion. The noise was deafening. They couldn’t hear. The continual flash of exploding shells appeared to be giant photographers snapping away in rapid succession, with a sick desire to capture every gruesome detail of the violent melee.
A tree behind them was hit, raining down burning branches upon their position. A large limb sliced open Mad Dog’s shoulder. He merely batted it away as the shells kept coming.
An explosion knocked the trio backwards, and while regaining their footing, another blast returned them to their haunches. Dan reached up to find his helmet gone, and blood flowing from the hairline. But he felt no pain: he knew he wouldn’t until the adrenaline subsided. And if these first few seconds are an example of what’s to come, he may never feel the pain.
Explosive illumination allowed the trio to get a glimpse of each other. Mad Dog was grabbing an ammo can. Rev was switching his M-16 to full auto. Dan located his helmet, and put it on. And they all knew what was coming.
The artillery bombardment traversed the hill, and just passed their position. Time for the human wave: one huge wave of human bodies charging toward them.
How many? Dan wondered. He didn’t have to wonder long. As the last shell fell, up went the flares, popping open as they soared above the trees. Then slowly descending, illuminating the area below, casting eerie shadows as they made their way down: at times, making it hard to distinguish human forms from the flickering light.
As the GI’s gazed down the hill they saw a sight that would sober a habitual drunk. There were thousands of muzzle flashes, and the V.C. pulling the triggers, charging the hill.
They let loose with everything they had. But no matter how many they dropped, the swarm continued to advance. Dan put so many rounds through the M-60 that the barrel began to melt. He had been warned of that possibility, but let it slip his mind. As he changed it for the spare Rev and Mad Dog set off the claymores they had rigged strategically down the hill. The explosions reinforced the ringing in their ears. And, though the blasts thinned out the charging onslaught, those remaining pressed onward.
Ammo was going quickly. Rev quarterbacked his grenades, and grabbed Dan’s from his web-gear as well. And Dan continued to spray the hill with a string of alternating tracers, which helped gauge the accuracy of night fire, and then — the lights went out.
[*See how the friends fare in the fire-fight in the final part: Part 3 tomorrow.]