WHEN DARK CLOSES IN
Scott – Hue, South Vietnam
June, 1967, Hue, South Vietnam
It was nearly impossible to empty his mind of the things he’d seen, and try to write stuff as if he was a boy scout on a camping trip. Yea! Some trip. Every time he started a letter to Jen or his mom, he didn’t know what to write. What he thought they wanted to read, or hear, he could not write. What he could write they would not want to read, or hear. Too depressing. The media covered enough of the grizzly stuff, but how many bothered to read it, or hear it reported on Nightly News?
He wadded up the letter, another hard ball, and threw it at the latrine. Smack! Wadded another. Threw a curve ball. His mind flashed back to the time he was in high school. They were in the seventh inning, their baseball team’s playoff game for the all-state championship trophy. The opposing team was up at bat. He stood at the pitcher’s plate, slamming home fast balls, right into the catcher’s mitt, strike one, two, three. Another one, “out”!
Bases loaded. Runners up, eagerly waiting. I took my time, made them sweat. Slowly raising my pitching arm, arched my back, turned and, raised my left leg, fooling those on bases. Then, quickly straightened, and threw to third base with the runners sprinting for second and third. The umpire called it. ” Out”!
His writing notebook was not entirely empty. There was much of it that was already filled with things he didn’t share with anyone. He’d been keeping the ‘journal’ since he arrived in Saigon nine months ago. Now, he snatched minutes whenever he could to unleash whatever was in his head. When he didn’t know what to write home to Jennifer and his family, he used the journal to communicate his thoughts, express his frustrations, or just rant with pen on paper.
“Here I am, nine months into my tour of duty, these last three in Hue. My M-16 remains the only friend I know that won’t leave me, my constant companion. Sleep deprived, I have dreams of hot showers, cheese burgers and fries, the waves of Puget Sound washing over my bare feet, but, I lie back on burlap bags filled with freeze-dried army rations near the latrine, stink like the village pigs here, and my eardrums vibrate from the drone of planes and helicopters overhead.”
“I still see the faces of the dying villagers lying helpless in our wake as we moved in, after the Viet Cong. Their blood soaks the ground. They are the innocent victims of our bullets and shrapnel. Open, gaping wounds fill with swarming flies to lay claim to their remains. Medics cannot help them all. Only the monsoons help wash the earth of their blood. But, nothing washes away the memory. Their fading cries linger in my head. I hear them over and over.”
“There is no time to grieve the death of friends I’ve made here. I just watch the medics wrap them up and send them home in a body bag. My grief, my emotion is an internal kind, because it’s just not cool to watch a big boy cry. But, when, or if I leave here alive, I will feel more ashamed for not shedding any for the friends I watched die.”
“We don’t know where our enemy lurks. The south will do whatever is necessary to annihilate and wipe out all evidence of VC presence, or compromise. There is infiltration in the South’s army. It is hard to distinguish between the two armies sometimes. At times we don’t know who we’re fighting. We just fire. The South Vietnamese Army formed a special unit for the sole purpose to hunt ‘rats,’ (revolutionists and their spies), another name given the VC. SWARM (Specialized Warfare Against Rat’s Movements) are a brutal bunch of boys. Some say the CIA trained them. No reason to doubt it.”
“Reports from home tell about the apathy for the soldiers here. Does anyone care we are dying? Troops have no real commitment to the South’s cause. They were pulled in, with no choice. This has become a political war. Those in WA., DC that decide our fate should be here. We would choose theirs. And they would go home in body bags. With, or without the U.S. help, the South Vietnamese will fight on, to keep their side free from the north.”
“Things are getting intense around Da Nang, and our unit may be heading north. My only momentary relief comes from looking at Jennifer’s picture, and reading her letters from home. I pray I make it back. I never thought much about praying for anything before. Guess I never needed anything so much until now, so I’ve given it a try. Whether or not God listens, at least I’m giving it a shot.”
Scott Bradley – 1967, Hue, South Vietnam
Suddenly, the sounds of M-16 s erupted everywhere. Another ambush. The screams of troops falling under fire while launching grenades, the chaos from those running, hitting the ground, diving for cover: they were under attack.
Aim, fire, and kill. Scott emptied his cartridge on all he could see in their black pajamas, then reloaded. They camouflaged themselves in the bush, foliage hanging off them as they crawled along the ground. They laid low in rice paddies, creeping along like maggots. They were dropping, but it was too hard to see how many he’d gotten. They could pop up like ducks at a carnival shoot to gain the surprise. Carnage everywhere. The surprise attacks were coming more frequent.
His knees buckled. He lost balance. He felt a stinging, piercing pain, like a hot knife shoved in, then withdrawn. His grip loosened, his M-16 feeling too heavy to hold. He looked down at the growing red stain, the sticky wet blood oozing from a chest wound. He would not go down. Not today! Tightening his grip, he stumbled up, out of his trench and ran into the fray.
“Bradley! What are you doing? Get down, man. You’re going to get…No!” Mac yelled.
To be continued…
Joyce E. Johnson