Thank you to author, historian, and friend Janice Oberding for reminding me of this small memory involving one of my favorite wester-fiction writers.
We’d been out two and half days, trailing a smaller target and without interdicting them once. It was midday, and Skipper decided we’d set up a bivouac near a small brightly painted group of cinderblock huts.
It was the first time tasked with establishing a parameter. With the knowledge of some others, we got the job done, and I returned to the area with the idea of setting up a small clinic to treat villagers.
En route, I saw a two and half-year-old boy playing outside a home painted pink with lime green trim. He was finding delight in a pile of loose dirt he’d gathered and taking handfuls and sifting it through his fingers.
His laughter was contagious, and a few of us gathered around to enjoy it. Why I decided to get down on my knees, I’ve no idea, but I did, adding more loose dirt to his pile.
Quickly, Maxie joined me in front and on my left, then Purcell to my right and in front. The four of us were playing in that pile of dirt, children for the moment like the child we’d joined.
Ahead of me, against the wall of the hut, stood Blackwell. He was enjoying a cancer-stick and guffawing at our antics.
It was a ripple followed by a smashing blow to the top of my head as a rocket blew the hut apart.
Out cold, I have no memory until I awoke on a litter, prepped for Dust-off. I jumped up, removing the spike from my arm, and called for my piss-bucket.
Across the way, spread out on a woobie, a poncho liner, was our ammo dump. Unlike TV and movies, those in the field will pile all extra ammo, grenades, etc., together and then divvy it out depending on the assignment.
Loading a magazine, a nearby Lance Corporal asked, “Whatcha doing, Sarge?”
“No need. We got the bastards, 11 K-I-A, one wounded and who might not make it, and two captures and already on their way to S-2.”
“What of the others?”
“Maxie has a broken left shoulder, Purcell’s ankles are busted, and Blackwell’s K-I-A.”
There was a hesitation in the young man’s voice, so I asked, “And?”
“The little boy, his sister, and mom are also K-I-A.”
“Thank you, Rich, good report.”
Turning, I came face to face with the Skipper.
“Sergeant,” he said.
“Standdown, every things been handled.”
“But this is all my fault, sir, and need to get me some.”
“They were already inside the wire, Tom, nothing you or any man-jack here could have done about it. So get something to eat and relax.”
A small mess line, meaning select a C-ration and ‘cop a drop,’ was already established. Not feeling hungry, I found a small berm to lean against, and I pulled from my trouser’s side pocket a book I’d already read a couple of times, Louis L’Amour’s “Comstock Lode,” a book about Virginia City, Nev.