The music beginning in the auditorium jarred Dan back to the present. He found himself sweating, and wiped his brow. It was not surprising: I couldn’t guess how many nights I have awakened in a cold sweat because of those memories. Emotional scars take longer to heal than physical ones.
The worship group was leading the congregation in an upbeat tune. Gazing at his watch told Dan that he would be announced in a few minutes, and he was still wondering what to say. He rested his head on his hands in contemplation, and another memory of Mad Dog came to mind.
February 8th, 1971: Mad Dog and Dan entered the airport snack bar. They were in Hawaii. It wasn’t home, but at least it was stateside. Their homeward flights are in an hour, so they were grabbing something to eat. They dropped their duffle bags next to the stools before sitting. While waiting for their orders a familiar voice came from nearby. They turned to see another soldier advancing toward them. Mad Dog recognized him first, Rico, from boot camp.
“Well I’ll be,” Rico said. “Mad Dog and Dangerous Danno. How the hell are you?”
“Just another year older,” Mad Dog said.
“But a lifetime wiser,” Dan added. “Sit down and join us.”
Rico sat and ordered.
“What a fucking nightmare that was, huh?”
“They never promised us summer camp with panty raids,” Mad Dog said.
“Actually, I got plenty of panty raid time at Mama San’s,” Rico said. “I fucking caught three chunks of shrapnel in the legs. Can you believe that? My fucking second night out in Booneyville. Pissed me off. And they sent me back to Saigon to shine a seat with my ass. Kept me there six-months before rotating back to the shit.”
“You’re breaking my heart,” Mad Dog said.
As the counter clerk began to bring the orders Rico kept talking like a child starved for attention instead of food.
“Yep, they filed me away in a basement office at the embassy. Fucking room didn’t even have a window. Hell of a waste of a perfect killing machine. But I kid you not I scored over two hundred pieces of prime grade-A poontang. I know cuz’ I kept score. And it was always the same. Mama San say, ‘fuckee suckee ten dolla’, and I say, ‘way too bookoo’, and I weasel it down to two. Man, you can’t get any poontang on Hollywood Boulevard for two fucking dollars. Especially not teeny bopping tight and juicy.”
“It was only juicy cuz’ other guys had been there before you,” Mad Dog said, since he knew this wasn’t a conversation Dan would join.
“Hell, in that case you just flip and dip.”
“Shit fire, son, you’re as sick as ever.”
“Yeah, ain’t it great?” Rico said. “Nothing really changes.”
When the clerk placed Dan’s order in front of him, he closed his eyes and said a silent prayer.
“What the fuck! Dangerous Danno, praying?” He turned to Mad Dog. “Tell me this is a bad dream.”
“It’s for real,” Mad Dog said. “Let’s leave it at that.”
That was not Rico’s style. He thought he was being funny, as he had back at Fort Dix.
“Hey, Danno, I think you spent too much time with the Chocolate Jew Boy.” He again turned to Mad Dog, “Whatever happened to him? I bet Tinkerbell didn’t make it, did he?”
Without a word, or warning, Mad Dog delivered a back-fist to Rico’s jaw, sending him sprawling off the stool. Dan jumped in front of Mad Dog before he could continue. He turned and walked away. The counter clerk disappeared as well. Dan turned to Rico, who was stunned, bent forward and extended his hand.
“What’s his problem?” he said, still rubbing his jaw.
Dan helped him up before answering.
“That Chocolate Jew Boy won the medal of honor, posthumously.” Rico’s jaw dropped open with the realization that he’d put his foot in it. “You see, that Jew Boy, or Tinkerbell, as you call him, gave his life for us. And I’d be proud to wear any title he wore.”
“I’m sorry,” Rico said. “I — I didn’t know.”
“I know you didn’t,” Dan said, extending his hand.
Rico shook it then started toward Mad Dog. But something stopped him. He clenched his fists by his sides, as if struggling with some unseen force. The force won. He turned and walked out.
Dan walked to the bench where Mad Dog was sitting. He was still upset, though not at Rico, at himself: and not for this incident, but one six months earlier. And he told Dan things he had kept secret all these months. He confessed that he was going to accept Jesus that night in the foxhole when the firefight interfered.
Dan knew it was not an easy confession for Mad Dog to make. His Texas buddy was the epitome of a man’s man. He asked no quarter, and he gave none. And if he didn’t hunt it, build it, or earn it, he figured he could do without: because asking for help was not in his vocabulary.
Six months earlier, back on hill three-forty-two, the firefight continued to rage long after Dan fell unconscious and wounded in the foxhole. He came to from time to time, and could hear the various mind-bending sounds of war all around, but there were four dead gooks on top of him and he lacked the strength to escape his predicament.
When the human wave of charging VC made it to the company perimeter the order was given to vacate the holes. From then on it was muzzle-to-muzzle, face-to-face, and hand-to-hand.
Rev and Mad Dog did their best to watch each other’s back, but it became a cut, slash, and blast bloodbath in a horror scene from hell. And every good plan went to shit. The two were separated and the fighting continued throughout the night. All they could do was hope the other survived.
Just before dawn the highest ranking officer left alive sent out an “all come” over the radio. They were greatly outnumbered, the perimeter was breached, and the coming light would guarantee a massacre.
Within minutes Dragon-Six would bring breakfast and an early morning wake-up call: napalm soup. A half-dozen five-hundred pound canisters would rock the world of every man on the hill, friend or foe.
The GI’s who knew it was coming had a chance to cover. All those who didn’t — would die.
Rev had overheard the order, and he charged back toward the foxhole. He knew Dan was still alive, and wanted to be sure he was still in the hole. As he neared the pit he saw Mad Dog in a freakish running game of chicken with a squad size group of VC. His muzzle was spitting fire, and his mouth was spitting obscenities.
Rev added the element of surprise when he took up the charge from his direction, and the two GI’s had the Cong caught in a cross-fire. It was just enough advantage to win the duel, though both received additional wounds to add to their growing collection. But with the battle raging around them, there was no time to relax.
The two rushed toward the foxhole as they began to hear the distinctive sound of the incoming C-130: a cargo plane that had been modified for bomb drops.
“Oh shit!” Mad Dog yelled, arriving at the foxhole and seeing the extra bodies they had left there earlier to hide Dan. “I don’t think we have enough time to get him out.”
“We don’t,” Rev said so calmly that Mad Dog turned to look. His pint-sized buddy was eying the dark sky, and could tell the prop sounds had traveled beyond them, which meant only one thing — they have already released the bombs.
Rev was standing slightly behind Mad Dog, and he immediately crouched and pushed forward, slamming his weight into his friend. Mad Dog tried to find footing, but there was none, since he was on the edge of the pit, and down he fell, just as the first massive explosion erupted.
Dan was conscious, but in a clouded dream-like state through shock and loss of blood, as he felt the crushing weight of Mad Dog added to the pile already on top of him. And he heard the tortured scream emanating from deep within his Texas pal as Mad Dog realized what Rev was doing. And Mad Dog immediately tried to rise, but was doomed to fail as the rest of the explosions came in rapid succession.
Six massive fireballs blew up and then out, casting their flammable gel in every direction. The AO was literally engulfed. It was the closest thing to Dante’s Inferno any one present could imagine. And in an instant the night long firefight ceased.
Had Dan remained conscious he would have seen what he thought to be his private dream world now becoming reality. Every tree, bush, and rock, and every VC and GI, was covered in various shades of grey to black. Much of the foliage still burned, and many of the bodies were charred and crispy.
The light of day found most of the survivors before they gathered their wits about them enough to function: though many, stupefied, continued to sit, or wander in a daze.
Mad Dog began to wonder why Rev had not followed him down into the foxhole. He first reached down and made sure Dan still had a pulse, then stood up in the hole and looked around.
He had only seen the effects of napalm once before. His team was ordered to enter a VC encampment and mop up after a bombardment. But somehow that felt remote — distant. Not his time. This time he had been in the fray from the beginning. There could be no soul-numbing distance. There could be no detachment of any kind — especially when he turned and saw Rev’s body at the foot of the same tree that had rained down burning branches on him earlier.
His bone tired exhaustion vanished as he jumped out of the hole, and rushed to Rev’s side. He had never thought of his buddy as frail. He had always viewed him as larger than life: dynamite in a small package — but not now. His friend looked like a broken and singed rag doll tossed away by its owner.
Where the fuck is your God now? He wanted to ask, as he gently rolled Rev over to assess the damage.
Rev’s eyes opened. They shined clear and white, in contrast to the ash and caked on blood that darkened his ebony skin even more.
“Right here,” Rev said.
No way! Mad Dog thought. How could he possibly know what I’m thinking? He must be delirious.
“Just hang in there Little Buddy. Help is coming.” Mad Dog turned in the direction of the CP and yelled: “Medic!”
“It’s okay,” Rev whispered.
“No — no,” Mad Dog said. “They’re on their way. You just hang tight.” He had seen enough wounds to know what was coming. If you’re fucking real Big Man, we need a miracle now!
“Relax, Bro — I’m fine.”
“MEDIC!” Mad Dog screamed so loud and long it hurt his throat.
Rev reached over and gently placed his hand on Mad Dog’s: “It’s meant to be.”
Mad Dog shook his head defiantly. Then he saw the dark blood bubble up and drip from Rev’s mouth. And he could not pretend there was hope any longer. All the fight went out of him, as he positioned himself so he could cradle Rev in his arms.
“Why? Why’d you do it?”
“I couldn’t let it be you, you aren’t ready yet.”
“Damn you. Damn you and your fucking faith. And damn any god that would kill you instead of me.” And yet within, he could not help question: Why God? Why would you kill a saint and spare a hell-raiser?
“Don’t blame God,” Rev said. “Freedom of choice. This is man’s war. Human sin.”
Back in the airport Dan watched the tears well up in Mad Dog’s eyes, and he wondered why he had not told him before this.
“Rev passed out after that,” Mad Dog said. “I continued to hold him — until the end. And he only came to once more. Just for a moment. And he said, ‘Tell Danno that this was it’.”
That caused Dan to turn away. Rev had found a way to tell him why God had wanted him to enlist.
“He died to give you more time to accept Jesus,” Dan said while turning back. “Have you?”
“No,” he said with some embarrassment. “I guess it’s time to pay him back.”
“That’s not what Rev wanted,” Dan said. “You do it for yourself and God, no one else.”
Dan waited as Mad Dog thought about it before facing him.
“I don’t remember what to say.”
“That’s no problem,” Dan said, while putting his arm around his shoulders. They bent forward, closed their eyes, and recited the same prayer Rev had used with Dan.
Dan lifted his head in the present and viewed Pastor “Mad Dog” Mason heading to the microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve got a special treat for you tonight,” Mad Dog said. “The man I’m about to introduce is the only friend I have left who knew me before I became a Christian, over thirty years ago. I’m a little nervous about what secrets he may tell, but I’ll take my chances. Let’s welcome my old Army buddy, and best friend, Dan Douglas.” And he waved Dan forward.
Well, here goes!
Dan wiped away a tear that arose in remembrance of Rev, stood up, and headed on stage. He was still wondering what to say as he greeted Mad Dog with a hug and turned toward the microphone. That’s when he no longer wondered. He felt the peace that passes understanding when divine intervention takes a hold.
“Good evening. Tonight I have a special story for you. It deals with one specific verse, John 15:13, and concerns your pastor, myself, and an old friend named Rev.
© JW Thomas