War touches all

The following is a term paper based on several books written about the Vietnam War; but it is just as relevant for any war… and for any time.

[Take your ego and preconceived notions out of the equation and it’s never too late to learn.]

Fly the friendly skies0001

War touches all

War is greedy. A little thing can release it, but after it is let loose it cannot easily be tamed. It has no loyalty, not even to those who cast it forth. It seeks to ravage anything and anyone it touches, and it touches everyone. And anyone touched by war will never be the same. But individuals who experience war firsthand will, inevitably, bear a bigger cross: a burden uniquely forged by their experience and perspective. Continue reading

No greater love: a short story (Part 3 of 3)

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

No greater love: a short story (Part 2 of 3)

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.

“Hey, Rev.”

“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.”

“For real?”

“Yep.”

“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.

“Rev.”

“Yep.”

“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?”

“Sure.”

“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.

“Well, Bro?”

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.]

No greater love: a short story (Part 1 of 3)

Commotion in the auditorium aroused the attention of Dan Douglas. He was here by special invitation, though he has never done any public speaking.

What am I going to say?

The pastor said there was no reason to prepare. But this was a full house. Surely they want something more than just winging it.

Dan is a Vietnam veteran. He pulled two tours in Southeast Asia in the early seventies. And, though he was highly decorated, he would gladly return them all, considering the lingering effects spawned during incidents which garnered him three purple hearts: but left him partially disabled.

Likewise, at times like this, when an abundance of ambient sounds cannot be easily discerned, and his own state is agitated, he finds his focus reverting back to those earlier days when friendships forged in preparation and survival of humanity’s worst become life-long bonds.

 

Fort Dix, New Jersey, 1969: a Southern California surfer, a West Texas cow puncher, and a combination street smart, holy rolling, blues boy from New Orleans are thrown together. Yet how they ever became friends is still up for debate. Even their barracks buddies swore they were three aliens jabbering away in different languages. Dan was always “stoked,” and talked about “righteous waves,” and “bikini babes with legs for days.” Mad Dog Mason countered with rodeo exploits, how he missed his horse, NASCAR racing, and unfettered pride in the Lone Star state. And James Waxton, known as Rev, because of his habitually reading the Bible, was a living archive of Delta Blues and Bourbon Street Jazz: and he would gladly sing it any time of the day or night.

Yep, the trio took to claiming their friendship was forged through heaven, hell, and eight downbeats from Basin Street. And a boot camp officer, noticing how the trio was inseparable, called them a “reverse Oreo:” two vanilla cookies on the outside with a little chocolate in the middle.

Dan could not help smiling as the memories began to cloud out the auditorium, and all things present.

Yep! Two glorious weeks of leave before shipping out overseas, and I’m going home.

“Danno.”

Dan looked up and saw Rev staring at him with a concerned look.

“You alright?”

“Yeah,” said Dan. “Why?”

“Cuz’ you haven’t responded to our last three questions,” Rev said, “or to Mad Dog calling you a love-struck fool.”

Dan glanced toward Mad Dog, who saluted him with the wrong hand, while giving him ‘the bird’ and gulping down the last of his brew.

“Well?” Rev said.

“Well what?”

“Are your parents going to meet you at the airport tomorrow?”

Damn! Dan thought. I guess I had daydreamed a bit, because I don’t recall that being asked.

Mad Dog cut in before Dan could respond. “I told you he’s not going home to be with his parents. He’s gonna’ try out some of my roping and riding techniques on Diane.” And he blew a kiss in Dan’s direction, and fluttered his eyes.

Dan let it slide. After all, Diane was the major theme of most of his thoughts. His arms ached to hold her. And if it’s this bad after five months, how bad will it be after a year in ‘Nam?

“You’re doin’ it again,” Mad Dog barked. “Maybe we should’ve gone out to celebrate.” No response from his friends. “Come on you two, we just graduated for christsakes!”

His slip of the tongue drew the appropriate glances from his buddies, so Mad Dog, upon realizing what he had said, apologized to Rev. It was a rather unique sight to see in a military barracks. Rev is all of a hundred and fifty pounds, dripping wet. Mad Dog is well over two-hundred. Yet out of his respect for his little buddy, he will watch what he says — and he will only curb his tongue around Rev.

Rev has that distinct quality. He somehow attracts an unusual loyalty from anyone who takes the time to get to know him. Most of the GIs laughed at him initially, with his Bible reading, going off to pray, or nursing a soft drink while the rest of them polished off something more substantial. Yet he hung in there when many macho-fakes dropped out. He earned their respect.

However, the trait was just a part of Rev’s personality. It was prevalent even before he became a Christian. Since his father was imprisoned for life, and his mother was a Beat Street whore addicted to “H”, he grew up on the street. And his ability to gain loyalty from the dishonest, and often dangerous, street element helped him survive, and even thrive in the shadowy recesses of New Orleans underworld.

Hell, even the drill instructors fell under his spell, Dan recalled.

He was remembering how the DIs enjoyed calling the new recruits derogatory names upon their arrival.

“You will answer to Ass Digger,” a barrel-chested runt of a DI told Dan.

“And you’re the resident Steer Queer,” the DI informed Mad Dog.

Mad Dog then earned a hundred pushups for snapping back: “Do I get first dibs, or is it sloppy seconds after you?”

Before the vertically challenged DI selected a name for Rev, he overheard him tell another recruit that Christians are Spiritual Jews. So the instructors began to mock him with the title of “Little Chocolate Jew Boy.” But it changed within weeks.

Rev saved the life of a walking clusterfuck: a raw recruit whose IQ was ninety-nine cents short of a dollar. Just the type of draftee you want to bring to the artillery range and hand over explosives to.

The SOB fell asleep during the lecture, then tried to fake his way through the exercise, and set up a claymore mine in his own direction: a feat in itself, since claymores have front and back stamped on the casing. And, though the DIs missed it, Rev didn’t, and tackled him just as he depressed the clicker. Neither was injured, but they finally booted the Jughead out, since he blew a dozen holes in the Company Commander’s jeep. And the DIs took to calling Rev “Preacher Man” and “Little Samson” after that.

The trio continued to reminisce about the graduation, the course, and what they would do on leave. And, instinctively, they continued polishing brass and spit-shining boots during the conversation. Drilled in habits are hard to break.

They were soon joined by three other barracks buddies: J.J., Rico, and Tommy “the Chinaman” Lee. They had just come from the enlisted man’s club. The military is big on keeping the hierarchy strongly ingrained. Everyone has to work together, but you live and play with your peers. That’s why most military bases have three clubs: an officer’s club, an NCO club, and an enlisted man’s club.

“You guys didn’t hang around here all night, did ya’?” Rico said spitting out half the words in his over lubricated state.

“You shoulda’ joined us,” J.J. said. “It was funny as hell to see the Chinaman puke all over his date.” A comment that sparked GI laughter and it would permeate the rest of their bullshit session.

“I thought it would improve her looks,” said the glassy eyed Chinaman.

“It was a her?” Dan said with mock surprise.

“The jury’s still out on that one,” J.J. said. And the BS banter continued to steam forward as they continued to imbibe while packing their personal belongings and military issue for their upcoming departures.

When most their gear was ready and the night was winding down, Rico began to stare at Rev through clouded thoughts and bloodshot eyes. And it took nearly ten minutes for his alcohol dulled senses to formulate something to say.

“Hey, Bible Thumper,” he began slowly. “You ain’t said shit hardly.”

“Shit hardly,” Rev said while burping up his soft drink. And everyone except Rico laughed.

“Listen — listen — Bible Thumper,” Rico said. “I bet when you go home you pray for the war to end before the rest of us — heart-takers and — women-breakers — get a chance to be heroes.”

“I ain’t never broke a woman in my life,” Dan said.

“I broke a cherry,” the Chinaman said while crunching a beer can on his forehead.

“Don’t you mean popped?” Dan said.

“Like popped goes in the weasel,” J.J. said, and laughed himself to tears as his fermented brain caught the image he suggested.

Mad Dog had not cared for the insinuation of Rico’s remark, but had to wait until he vacated the latrine to reply.

“Watch out, Rico,” Mad Dog said as he made his way back to the group. “Rev has a mainline to heaven. He might ask God to keep you overseas permanently.”

Rico’s eyes grew wide, and his head bobbed in his intoxicated condition, while trying to contemplate the ramifications of Mad Dog’s comment. And the others laughed for the umpteenth time: though J.J. was still laughing at his weasel popping image.

As the laughter subsided Dan began to wonder: Why doesn’t Rev ever get pissed off at Refried Rico for his stupid badgering?

“Listen up, you clowns!” came the familiar voice of Corporal Lewis. “Privates Waxton, Mason, and Douglas: if you can get your gear together asap, you can leave. The military hop bumped three off for disciplinary action. You can take their places.”

The immediate hooting and hollering from the trio ignited jealousy in the three who would remain, but not enough to stop them from well-wishing and the usual farewells. Neither trio believed they would ever see the others again. Rev, Mad Dog, and Dan were the only ones shipping out to the same unit.

 I’m glad my pals are going with me overseas, Dan thought, as the trio exited the barracks. But right now, all I want is to get on that hop and go home.

 

A pat on Dan’s back returned his thoughts to the present. It was the pastor.

“Are you ready for this?”

Dan shrugged.

“Don’t worry. You’ll do fine.”

Another shrug.

“I’ll signal when we’re ready.”

As the reverend departed Dan rescanned the auditorium with a hint of admiration. The Reverend has come a long way. He has a large church, wonderful family, and thousands of friends. It’s hard to believe this all came about because of a friendship over thirty years ago.

 

[*See what happens to the friends when they finally get to Vietnam in Part 2.]