Fatigue; it’s a Marines greatest enemy when on sentry duty. Hendry and I had the assignment; we sat in the farthest listening post from the forward operating base.
Half-asleep, I heard Hendry ask in a near panicked tone, “What the fuck’s that, Sarge?”
Not known to swear very often, I popped awake at Hendry’s voice and looked into the darkness towards where he stared. All I could see was the jet-black ink of night, while he could see varying shades of green projected by the night vision googles he held up to his face.
“What?” I whispered, half-annoyed.
“Listen!” Hendry demanded.
Though only a few seconds, it felt like a few minutes as I halted my breathing and adjusted myself to hear even the faintest noise. Then, there it was – the unmistakable sound of a little girl’s laughter.
Fearful of falling victim to the menace of the ‘thousand-yard stare,’ seeing things in dark, I shifted my eyes quickly from left to right and back again. I saw nothing, but I did continue to hear that faint laughter, which changed into a giggle and back again.
As I started to reach for the radio handset, Hendry suddenly shifted, moving his shoulders and head forward reminding me of a pointer hunting dog. I admit, it is a strange thought to have rush into one’s head during a moment of impending danger, but I also adjusted myself, hoping to see what he’d detected.
“There,” he half-hissed, half-whispered, as he pointed into the darkness, “I can see her. She’s skipping back and forth. It looks like she’s picking flowers or something.”
I still couldn’t see anything beyond a yard or so. A high cloud cover had obscured any moonlight.
“Lemme have the NVG’s, L.C.,” I directed.
Hendry complied as he maintained his M-14 at the ready. Looking down range, I saw her too, exactly as the Lance Corporal had described.
“What the fuck,” I mumbled, more as a statement than a question, as I handed the goggles back to Hendry.
The giggling and the laughter continued as I debated with myself about what I should do next. I knew exactly what my orders were but I had no idea how I could explain it without sounding section-eight.
“She’s coming toward us, running…I think,” Hendry said, almost calm.
Quickly, I brought my rifle up and placed it against my shoulder. No sooner had I done that then she appeared – but there was something off about this child.
“Ellos vienen!” cried a child’s voice.
The words barely had a chance to register in my mind, when a shot rang out from the treeline and across the field. The child fell face forward into the tall grass and scrub as if she’d been struck in the back.
Without hesitation, Hendry returned fire on the muzzle flash, as I radioed in that we had contact. Quickly, Hendry and I crawled from our post and into a secondary position that we’d established as a mortar dropped into our previous fighting hole.
For over two-hours we beat the enemy back as they tried again and again to breach our perimeter. Come sunrise, the enemy melted back into the jungle ahead of our teams, whose job it was to engage the bad guys long enough to either run them to ground or call in artillery.
Once we were certain that the bad guy were no longer a threat, Hendry and I walked over to where we watched the child as she pitch over from being shot. We found nothing but a bundle of old, dead flowers in the spot.
Later, after learning one of the teams had found an injured enemy soldier, we heard scuttle-butt that he and three of his buddies were watching a little girl playing in the open land between the treeline and our FOB. He said one of the men shot the girl and that they were startled when the same guy was shot through the throat by our return fire.
When asked about this little girl, neither Hendry, nor I said a thing. We may be dumb-assed Devil-dogs, but we aren’t completely crazy.